Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We don't see, don't notice, don't understand- we need more awareness

Last week when I was coming home from a bar at night, a man who was taking pictures across the street stopped me and offered me bred if I waited a few minutes. A few days before that a motorcycle parked on the sidewalk was blocking the access ramp to my apartment, forcing me to go around the complex  and just the other Sunday I almost injured myself  going down a steep ramp to a local theater because bicycle riders tied their transportation to grab bars on both side, ignoring the painted sign DO NOT BLOCK. I'm sure these people didn't do it intentionally. I think the photographer would have been very embarrassed had he known I'm an attorney and not a homeless person in search of food.  The people tying blocking the ramps would've been very apologetic, no doubt had they seen me struggle to use it. It is never a good excuse, but we just don't think, don't see, don't notice. And then we assume, which is even worse.  It happens all the time and I doubt it will ever stop. To some extent we all do it.  When you have a disability, your needs and perception changes depending on what it is. As problems and challenges differ from person to person that's what makes this group stand out from other more uniform minorities. What I as a person with Cerebral Palsy need and require may be different from what a man with paraplegia needs. A friend of mine is fully functional from his waste up. I have poor posture, my right side is weaker and proper balancing in a chair and maintaining a position can be a problem. He needs his standard ADA grab bars at mandated angles and proper dimensions. For me the often get in the way. His body strength allows him to compensate for tte greater than standard angle on a bus lift. For me that becomes a problem if I'm leaning back. Not to mention that my friends who are blind feel safer with a tall sidewalk edge, while I'm looking for a ramp and the bumpy surface that supports their orientation is often a problem for my wheels. For that reason I don't think there can be any universal "disability advocacy", the way similar to how issues of people of different races, sexuality or gender  but we should all try to be more understanding and considerate.   And I think this is how awareness spreads. I noticed that by spe3nding time with me my friends learn to pay attention to more details and try to adopt my perspective. Would Ralph be able to access this? Reach this? Use this? And I think this is how change comes about, through education and understanding.

I'm not trying to write a book, become a motivational speaker, end up on Oprah or publish a memoir. I have a career. But my perspective comes from my experiences with my disability. Yes, I'd say it gives you a different kind of understanding, if you lived through it, if you are what you preach. My goal is to improve the life of people with disabilities, but by the same token I'm also improving my own life because I'm as affected. We need more awareness for all of us. If my parents, my entire family and then I worked so hard to make it better wouldn't it just be a waste if I didn't in turn try to better other people's lives? I'm not saying I'm at all extraordinary. But if my experiences, the sacrifices we all made can be useful to anybody- use them

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