Archive for March, 2012
Crossing the “yet”
Ed Roberts was an amazing guy. We were both on the TASH board and I got to spend some time with he and his son (pictured). Click on his name and see his incredible accomplishments. Ed was into action, not words. He was asked to be one of President George Bush’s “1000 points of light,” which he declined calling it Bush’s “1000 points of hype.” When he died, his wheelchair was donated to the Smithsonian. One of Ed’s quotes was:
There are only two kinds of people in the world: the disabled, and the yet-to-be-disabled.
This past year, my husband has had some heart issues and I’ve struggled with sciatica. Because my back pain’s not going away (even though I’ve had the lumbar shots, physical therapy…) we decided we needed to move to a ranch house.
And true to Ed Roberts’ prediction, I have crossed over the “yet” and am now starting to see the world from the “disabled” point of view.
Of course I’ve always seen what worked and didn’t work for Aaron, my son with a severe disability. But even with that knowledge and experience, now it is more personal. It is me. And it is shocking.
Boomers and Housing “thought leaders”
First of all, the housing market is filled with two stories; split, tri and quad levels but few ranches. The ranches that are available were built in the 60s. So they have old plumbing, bathrooms the size of postage stamps, and some even have steps. Yep, steps to get to the one-floor plan.
As we boomers age there is a scarcity of accessible housing. Sure there are some new patio homes but they are pricey and often in “mature” neighborhoods. Sure there are condos and apartments with elevators in crowded senior high-rises. Sure there are retirement communities which are basically segregated facilities–beautiful, but still segregated. Isn’t that what we have been fighting against for the last 30 years?
So, what to do?
Next week my husband and I are putting our multi-level condo up for sale. We figure in this market, it is wise to sell first and then buy. But as we go through potential houses, we are not finding anything appropriate. Where is the diversity? Where are the neighborhoods where ranches are mixed with multi-level houses? Where are the neighborhoods where seniors and young families can live together?
Universal Design has been around for a long time, where are the houses built with this concept? Why have the builders not used state-of-the-art thinking and technology?
I wish Ed were still here to make a joke and put things in perspective. I wish Ed were here to share his wisdom and spirit. Fact is, I just plain wish Ed were here.
And once again, I am reminded of my own aging and mortality. And that is another shock.
I never used to have friends who were dead.
In some ways I am lucky, I don’t carry many of the fears and superstitions of the previous generationI know about the difference between having a disability and a handicap (see post). I know how to advocate for my needs.
As I think about my own passage into the world of disability, I feel more prepared. People with severe disabilities have led the way. They have taught us to strip away all the frills and find the core of what we need. They have helped us learn about interdependence, adaptations and accommodations, systems of support, circles of friends, partial participation and community involvement.
They have taught us what is important–to be surrounded with people who love and care about us.
So, Tom and I will figure it all out. We will use the advocacy and problem-solving skills Aaron and others have taught us.
I remember when one of our relatives had a stroke. He would complain verbally and non-verbally, “I’ve only been like this for a short time” (I used to be independent and able to walk.) He would explain to everyone who would listen, “I didn’t use to be handicapped. I was an engineer.” (I had worth.) “Aaron is too close he might step on my foot.” (I’m damaged now, but I’m not like him, once I was whole.) He did not want to be near Aaron. He never put his prejudices into an actual discussion, he just always had this attitude about people with disabilities–and by god, he wasn’t one of “them.”
We have worked so hard to change people’s attitudes about people with disabilities. The next generation of children has had personal experiences with people with disabilities in the schools and community. But maybe the bigger lesson is that learning to be more tolerant about others, will make it easier for us to be more tolerant of ourselves. Hopefully, part of our learning about differences will ease the process of getting older.
We are all the same on the inside. We all need to be loved, safe, happy and give to others. That doesn’t depend on what our outer body looks like. That doesn’t depend on what side of the “yet” we are on.
I think these lessons will serve me well.
ps. Anyone looking for a great condo?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Are you offended with Ed’s quote, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: the disabled and the yet-to-be-disabled.” Do you think this discussion will help us as we age?
Keep Climbing–Onward and Upward
All the best,
This story is from 1981 when Aaron was 7 and Tommy 5. We were in the middle of our lawsuit against Cincinnati Public Schools to allow Aaron to be able to go to public school. Enjoy.
At the end of our street is a pond. Our family often takes walks down there to see the ducks and give them bread crumbs. One day last summer, an old man was down there and said: “Did you see the handicapped duck?”
Well considering I was pushing my seven year old son with a severe disability in his stroller, and considering the 24 hours a day I spend thinking about people with disabilities–this was really too much.
The friendly man went on, “Probably a frog ate his foot or maybe he caught it on the fence…”
Sure enough, there were about 40 ducks and one duck was missing his foot and about one-half of his leg. The duck hobbled toward us but when Tommy tried to pet him he scrambled for the bread crumbs with the rest and then swam away.
Before we left, we did throw him some extra bread crumbs just because we wanted him to know we were friends who understood life’s little extra challenges.
I went home and joked to my friends that at least some humane society didn’t come and set aside a special pond for disabled ducks, start a supplementary training program and segregated nesting area–or some exploiter didn’t take him to Utah and enter him in some freak show for tourists.
We checked in once in a while over the winter, but I really was a lot more worried about people with disabilities than the ducks. We were trying to mainstream Aaron, into a public school. (This was before “inclusion” was thought possible.)
Yesterday the weather was warm so we walked to the pond and saw there were only about 15 ducks. We were only there a minute when that same man came running down full of concern. He told us someone was catching the ducks, putting them in plastic bags, throwing them into the middle of the lake and then watching them drown.
We were shocked. Who would do such a thing?
Meanwhile, the few ducks that remained came swimming toward us looking for the bread crumbs. Guess What?
The “handicapped” duck was among the survivors.
I’m not sure what this all means or why I thought to write about it, but with all the cutbacks and anything else they can think up–I think the duck gave us a message–we’re going to make it. There are some mean horrible people out there, sure. But there are also wonderful people like the man who cared for the ducks. There is risk being in the community–but that is also where there is safety.
This week Aaron learned to peel his own banana, he went boating and he saw a “handicapped” duck that was smarter than the non-handicapped ducks. We also just need to get smarter.
The dream… it lives!
Quiz: For those of you who read the story about the difference between disability and handicapped (click here) and tell me. Did our duck with the one leg have a disability, a handicap, or both?
Share your Stories of Hope
What helps keep your dreams alive? Any duck or pet stories?