On Wednesday I arrived at the venue where I was going to speak and Joe went in to check it out. Sometimes there are better, closer, entrances for us to use. When he got back he told me that we were at the right place, at the right entrance and that he thought I’d like the hall. As we made our way towards the hall Joe was describing it as a lecture hall, complete with stage. I clenched inside. These often don’t have ramps and I’m usually then cramped up front at the base of the stage, it’s not a comfortable place to present from.
But I was wrong, not only did it have a ramp but a beautiful one that gave me easy access to the stage itself. Had the feeling from that moment on that it would be a good day. I remembered a couple years before using a rickety, improvised ramp to get to a stage and I had the room set up guy say, in explanation for there being no actual ramp, “No one expected disabled people to ever need to get up here.” I don’t think he realized what he said. Suggesting that people with disabilities would never need access to a lecture hall stage because people with disabilities had nothing significant to say, or if they did, they never would because of the shroud of shame we live under. I was offended for weeks about that remark.
I had been anticipated.
(Not me personally, of course, but people like me, all people like me.)
When I first became disabled, sitting in that wheelchair for the first time, I had many thoughts about my life to come, but one of the primary ones was about my future as a lecturer and a trainer. I suspected that the disability might change what I had to say, even if slightly, but I worried that suddenly, I’d never be on a stage again, never teaching, again. I have always known that it’s a privilege to do what I do and get the chance to educate or challenge or inform, but I didn’t want it whisked away because of my disability.
Clearly I have continued to lecture and continued to travel to do so and that I manage in whatever venue they arrange for me, with the exception of those that I couldn’t get in because, in one case there were 7 stairs to the front door and in another 12. But for the most part, we adapted what wasn’t adapted and really enjoyed those where no adaptation was necessary.
After lunch I rolled back down the ramp to the stage, rolled out onto the stage, and began to prepare for the afternoon. I watched as people strolled back in from lunch. I watched them take their seat. And I realized something, all morning, from the moment they all arrived. None of them were surprised to see a wheelchair user on a stage. Now some of them knew who I was, but many of them did not.
It seems that the idea of being trained by someone with a disability was simply unremarkable to them, as an audience. How remarkable that is, isn’t it? How incredibly remarkable.