The Dance of Advocacy and Forgiveness

Inclusion feels to me like showing up to a party I was never invited to, sitting down at the table with everyone else, and asking what’s for supper.

Living life and fully diving in, is activism in action. I don’t need to talk about equality, I live my life in the game and deal with all the bumps along the road so I can keep playing the game.

I am aware of the surprise from everyone to see “someone like me”, in the same life situation as them. To be a parent, to be a co-worker, to be a student. For them to see me at the same table as them.

For me, the secret to living a fully inclusive life, is forgiveness.

It’s not having specialty advocacy skills, although I do feel I have acquired a philosophy to my approach. It’s forgiveness, and here is why.

I am showing up to a party I was never invited to. Sitting down at the table and fulling want to join in the meal. If I show up angry, resentful, and ready to pick everyone apart over everything I think they are doing wrong, they will kick to me to the curb so fast. I want them over time, to become comfortable with me, recognize how much we have in common as humans, and genuinely enjoying spending time with me so I get invited back. It is a process that evolves with time.

I model my message.

I don’t tell people that I am confident, that I belong, that I am capable. I show it.

I ignore their ignorance, and overt and sometimes covert ableism, and just keep plowing through. I’ll give you an example. There was a parent of a disabled child who met me for the first time. Her and I have seen each other around, but never in the social setting for us to really chat. Opportunity presented itself and we were in a small group of other parents. I started talking fluently and then started stuttering on a word. She immediately copied me and laughed. This happens A LOT with people. I can’t quite explain it. I think they are confused…and I wonder if they even realize what they are doing it, before they do it. Anyways, I just ignored her and kept on talking. Making eye contact. Being social. As if nothing ever happened. I could see the look on her face as she realized….oh shit…she wasn’t joking, or this wasn’t just a speaking oops, she stutters. I forgive her like everyone else who reacts in the same way. Working professionals in the field of disability have reacted in the same ways. I ignore them, keep on talking, keep on joking, keep on smiling, and they realize very quickly the mistake they made. I don’t need to point it out and go on a rant. I want to pull them closer to me, not push them away.

My philosophy of advocacy includes modeling, and indirectly over time, providing information about stuttering and the challenges I face.  In the movie Pretty Woman when the main character Vivan, says “I say who, I say when, I say how much.” That’s how I feel about advocacy. I decided when I let things go, and when I gently speak up. I say who, I say when, I say how much.

I have met some very angry people in the disability community. And rightly so. I have met people who stutter who blame every thing that they don’t like about their life on their stuttering and that society will not “allow” them to…..get the job they want, find the relationship they want.  Are they justified in their anger? Absolutely! But I can’t stand being around those people for 5 min. Their anger is hard to handle.  Their anger becomes intolerable to be around.

Ableism is everywhere. It’s the air we breathe. We are ALL socialized to be believed negative messages about disabled individuals. There is no escape.  Ableism is not personal. That was a very important message for me to realize. I have experienced A LOT of ableism. The affects, almost cost me my life. But, it was never personal. Everyone gets the ableism treatment. So, these are the cards I have been delt. What do I want to do with it?

I choose to forgive people. To not hold it against them. To model, to live my life by diving in, and moving on. It works very well for me. I am happy. I enjoy interacting with the world around me. I feel ableism every day. Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes not. It’s a force I know I will always need to face. It’s not personal. I enjoy people. I enjoy our vulnerabilities and our imperfection. I enjoy moving through life and meeting people with a variety of perspectives, lived experiences and we all have our survival strategies.

If I were ever to get a tattoo, it would say “come as you are” on the inside of my right arm, the arm I use to shake hands with.

Come as you are. I’ll take you.