December 3 is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. As I traveled to Arizona for the National Center for Disability and Journalism awards and moved around my community, I saw many signs of hope that our world is becoming more inclusive and welcoming to the 19% of us who have disabilities.
On the flight to Arizona, I shared the bulkhead seats with a young woman who proudly told me a bit about her emotional support animal who was firmly ensconced in her lap. He was crying a lot on takeoff and landing. I was able to put my 43 years of service dog on planes experience to work and suggested she try giving him a little ice to lick. He loved it and the whining ceased. It may be the placebo effect, but we’ll take it.
In the Q and A following the speech by the winning journalist, Chris Serres, www.ncdj.org a student journalist with an invisible disability asked if she should write about disability issues or not. I was so pleased that she was told that she could and should because her experiences could give her good ideas of questions to ask and people to interview.
On the flight back from the NCDJ event, I was seated next to a truly loquacious woman who had never ever met a blind person and had many observations and questions. They ranged from “how do you read?” to the old standard “Your other senses must be much better than mine” to which I gave the usual “No, I just use them more” reply. But by the end of the LONG flight, she was bumping elbows with me in solidarity about the wonders of love. She was off to go live with Mr. Wonderful and make a new life for herself. I did manage to “nap” for a half hour and escape the torrent of questions before this introvert said anything unkind. Truly I’m glad she felt free to ask so many questions, as she said “How else do I know?” Maybe Blind Person #2 in her world won’t get quite the tsunami of questions.
I worked with a church secretary to get the readings and get familiarized with the church so I could read Scripture at a friend’s dad’s funeral. She also had not encountered a blind person in this situation before, but graciously answered questions and did what I asked like sending the readings electronically ahead of time and describing and walking through the front of the church with me. She was doing a little gentle teasing by the end, so I knew all was well between us.
A friend made me a safety pin with bells after having read my dilemma about the Safety Pin movement and “how would a blind person” know who has safety pins on. As she pointed out, it’s not perfect because the bells aren’t always jingling and it could be confusing if someone had bells on for a fashion statement, but it was a definite gesture of inclusion. So were the many kind strangers efforts to guide me through airports and around an unfamiliar university building.
Lift a glass December 3 to our rich world full of kind and interesting people with and without disabilities. Or for you more serious souls who want to improve your minds, try Jane Brody’s Tuesday Personal Health article in the New York Times about “What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient”.