Archive for the ‘Transformational Experiences’ Category
Dedicated to Marine Sgt. John P. Huling of West Chester, OH who was killed in Afganistan just days before his 26th birthday. His mother, Debbie, works with my husband Tom. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetary Memorial Day Weekend, 2012.
Ever wonder who puts all those flags on the graves of veterans?
MEMORIAL DAY Parades
Memorial Day is a celebration across communities in America which helps us remember our basic values and the soldiers who fought and died for them. Usually, it also includes a parade, one of my favorite parts of the holiday.
Several years ago my family sat in lawn chairs in our local cemetary watching the parade of Little League teams, high school marching bands, veterans in uniforms of many wars, and politicians in their red, white and blue ties.
The cemetery was beautiful. The lawns were like carpet. American flags marked each tombstone. The flowers colored the grounds with reds, pinks, purples and whites. Everyone was feeling damn patriotic.
Everyone except my uncle John. He turned to me and said, “I wasn’t always handicapped.”
I raised my eyebrows and wondered where this came from. Uncle John was never a happy person, but since he had a stroke, he’d become a weary soul. We’d hoped this celebration would lift his spirits.
After all, who doesn’t like a parade?
Uncle John explained. “You know, I was an electrician. I was important, I contributed, I worked in a great hotel for 30 years. Now I just sit here and watch life go by. I’m handicapped and useless.”
Not exactly cheerful parade conversation.
I couldn’t resist. “Uncle John, having a handicap isn’t the end of the world. Can you enjoy the parade? Look at those little kids jumping up and down on their decorated wagons.”
“You just don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not like him.”
And he pointed to my son Aaron, his nephew who has the label of autism.
Some Battles Can’t be Won
I felt I needed to say something, but I couldn’t find any words. So in silence, Uncle John, me and Aaron sat side-by-side, almost touching, yet thousands of miles away from each other.
What Attitudes and Freedoms do we Celebrate?
Some of the veterans in the parade were old with worn faces and bodies. Did our society value them?
Some soldiers were younger than Aaron… and their youth was shattered in the deserts and mountains of strange lands.
Some veterans carried labels of “handicapped and disability.”
And as the crowd cheered and waved, I wondered if these brave men and women would ever be truly accepted into our society.
Would others like uncle John say they were “useless”? Would they only see the handicap?
Would they consider these wounded warriors better than people born disabled, because the soldiers were once whole and then “damaged” fighting for our country?
During the ceremony, a soldier in a wheelchair got some sort of award, and the crowd clapped. I wondered if the community would further support him as he integrated back into society, or was his token wall plaque on Memorial Day the end?
Would people segregate, discriminate and ignore him the rest of the year?
Would he get the support he needed to live, work and become part of the community?
Disabled and Yet-to-be Disabled
I often wonder if everyone understand there are only two groups of people in this world–the disabled, and the yet-to-be-disabled? If we live long enough, each of us will have a disability.
It’s something to think about.
I asked uncle John if he noticed how the cemetery grounds looked. I told him Aaron worked at this cemetery. He and the landscaping crew had disabilities.
And with support, they weren’t handicapped and “useless.”
In fact, they were the ones who made the grounds look so beautiful.
Uncle John died a couple of months later–old, bitter and handicapped. He never understood that people with disabilities could do all sorts of things.
He saw only what they couldn’t do. He focused only of what he couldn’t do.
And he’d missed the joy, pride and purpose of the Memorial Day celebration – just like he missed the joy of Aaron and the joys in his own life.
This Memorial Day, I think Aaron and I will wave a couple of flags in celebration of America… both of us competent, contributing members of our community.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Comments: Come on, I know you want to share some memory of your own Memorial Day Parade, family reunion, attitudes about disabilities and “Handicapped.” You all have lots of ideas, let us know what you are thinking.
April is Autism Awareness Month. For those who are new to our community, I thought I would reprint this post because it talks about important issues. I hope you will feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Can I love Aaron and hate autism?
If I say, “I love my child, but hate cancer or heart disease…” many people would say that is okay.
If I say, “I love my son, Aaron. I hate autism.” some people say that is NOT okay.
So, call me a villain, ignorant, hypocrite, politically incorrect, or whatever–but I refuse to celebrate autism–I refuse to give autism that power.
I gladly celebrate the diversity of individuals. This diversity makes our world stronger and a more interesting place to live.
I love individuals who have autism, just the way they are.
But–I will not celebrate autism like it is a good thing.
World Autism Awareness Day April 2, 2013
This is the 6th year the United Nations designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. April 2nd next year is already designated too.
Are you going to wear blue? Will blue lights in the Empire State Building, or on the Jesus statue in Rio, or the top of a pyramid in Egypt really mean anything?
Is this like a birthday party? Something we celebrate every year? Send up the blue balloons? Paint your face blue?
I found some of the World Awareness Day press curious: “In fact a world without Autism would be a lesser world.” New Zealand: United Nations declare day to celebrate autism
I think wearing black would send a better message. Autism Awareness should send a plea for action NOW. We need help and resources NOW.
So, the United Nations has established April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. Great! Let’s talk about autism.
What causes Autism?
Well, no one knows for sure. The “experts” have narrowed the cause down to: environmental, biological, sensory, abuse and neglect, genetic, chemical, neurological, food…and the ever popular–it’s the parent’s fault.
So the short answer is, who knows?
Yesterday someone told me our children have autism because they don’t get enough eggs. Just add that to the list. They might be right.
I recently read a study (2013) that blames the grandparents. They conceived the parents late in life.
Don’t you love scientists–probably funded with the autism awareness fundraising, eh?
Dr. Anne Donnellan spent her career working with families and people with autism. She often says, “The more theories, the more proof that we don’t know.” She also gives her version of circular logic in Disability World.
Parent: My child keeps flapping their hands.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child flaps their hands.
Is Autism the Greatest Gift?
Some advocates want you to think autism is the greatest thing ever. They talk about the special abilities of people on the autism spectrum and say it is only because of autism they have these talents.
Hummmm. Is that so?
Sure Temple Grandin, with a glance, can tell how many nails are needed to build a livestock yard–but is that only possible because of her autism?
Rainman could count the number of toothpicks on the floor. Is it possible there is someone else in the history of the world that could also do that?
Are we again caught in circular logic?
Parent: My child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
There are some people with the label of autism who can tell you the day of the week for every calendar year in recorded time.
I can’t. Probably you can’t. But, is it possible there is at least one other human being without the label of autism who can?
The Guiness Record books are full of typical folks who can do all sorts of incredible tasks.
Hurry, quick. Do we now need to give those persons the label of autism?
There are some who are going back to past genius’ and claiming they must have been autistic…Mozart must have had autism. Disney perserverated on those mouse pictures–he must have had autism….
Couldn’t Temple Grandin and Donna Williams just talented people? Isn’t it demeaning to say, “No, the individual Temple Grandin has nothing to do with it, it is only because she has autism.”
Is it possible the statistical increases in the number of people with autism is partly due to our current scientific paradigm of labeling and sorting people? And some people promoting “autistic envy”? The new figures are 1-50. One child in every fifty–and all we are doing is having Autism Awareness Day at the Philadelphia Zoo?
What is normal?
Well, turns out we don’t really know that either. Plus, we could say “normal” changes every year in every culture.
Sure we have tests, but anyone who studies IQ or other quantitative or quantitative measures will point out the flaws.
Multiple Intelligences| Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner, studied people with autism who were labeled as autistic savants (actually “idiot savants” was the term used at the time). He was able to identify at least eight different kinds of “gifts or intelligences.” Now, in every school in the world (that uses best practice) his theory of multiple intelligences helps all children learn. Gardner says each of us has all these eight intelligences, some are just more developed than others.
This is one of the side benefits of autism. Without the diagnosis of autism, the scientific community might have had a harder time making this discovery. Science needs large groups.
Could it be we all have gifts and traits of genius, gifts and traits that could be labeled as autistic? Are we all a little autistic? Are none of us “autistic” in the pure definition of wanting to be apart.
So, what’s the deal about autism? Can’t we just celebrate individual diversity?
If we really believe autism is a tremendous gift, then it would be logical for each parent to wish their child would have autism. Right?
I once went to a conference for people with Down syndrome. Everyone kept talking about how people with Down syndrome were the happiest people in the world–how glad they were to have their child in their family. They used examples like, “They will always believe in Santa.” “They are pleased when I fix them chocolate milk.”…
Using circular logic:
Parent: I want my child to be happy.
Doctor: Children with Down syndrome are happy.
Parent: Then I want my child to have Down syndrome.
So, if we want our children to be happy maybe we should try to figure out how to add an extra chromosome to every baby’s DNA.
If autism makes us gifted, maybe we should be researching how to make 100% of the population have autism–add autism magic to our babies’ lives.
This kind of thinking is just nuts, yet it is common in each area of disability. Stick around Disability World and you will hear people yearn to have the courage of people with cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, be sexy like people with cerebral palsy….
Okay, I understand some advocates are probably hyperventilating at this point. How dare I talk this way about people with autism and Down syndrome?
The person who gets joy in Santa, or in having chocolate milk is an individual. Each individual person–even if they have a label– is different.
We can love the individual–not the disability.
As family members, friends and as self-advocates, we can value the individual person’s talents, gifts, joys and sorrows. We can see them in the context of their environments–but, we don’t have to give all the power and credit to the label of disability. The individual should get the power and credit. They are the ones who are who they are.
I can love my Aaron–I don’t have to love autism.
I can see Aaron’s gifts and talents–I don’t have to think they are only because he has the label of autism.
Aaron is a loving person who makes kissing noises as I turn out the light. He smiles when I pull on the toes of his socks. He gives me hugs when I walk past him. He is patient as I try to figure out what he wants. He concentrates on his books and loves pictures. He gets excited when I come in a room. I love when he relaxes in his bath. I love when he initiates a song or going to the bathroom. I love when he figures out how to eat the cheese off my sandwich….
Aaron is unique. He adds his own version of diversity to the human family. He is a great son, brother, uncle, friend… just the way he is.
Autism sucks. Aaron doesn’t.
Autism affects each person differently.
In Aaron’s case, Autism means he can’t talk with words. It means he is 38 years old and can’t always tell when he needs to go to the bathroom. It means he has trouble making friends. It means he yells in public restaurants. It means he chews on his clothes and books and the car seats. It means he has motor difficulties and has trouble walking–crossing from the rug to a tile floor. It means he is always afraid of falling and losing his balance. It means he bites his hand to calm himself. It means it takes him a long time to learn things. It means he will forget them if he doesn’t practice them every day. It means he likes music, but not loud noises. It means he likes to be moving (in cars, buses, boats, planes…) It means he likes to swim, but not bend over. It means he can’t tie his shoes or dress himself independently…it means he cannot be left unsupervised even for a minute.
That all sucks.
I wish it was easier for him. I wish it were easier for me to help him.
But all those difficulties don’t mean I don’t love Aaron with every fiber of my being.
Each day for the last 38 years, I work to get Aaron the support he needs to live, work and recreate in his community. To allow him to be the best person he can be–For him to be able to make choices and have opportunities he wants.
There is a difference.
Dream Plans for Aaron Ulrich
I am adding our dream plan for Aaron. You can click on each of them and see I am NOT trying to cure Aaron. I am NOT trying to make him a different person. I love and respect him as the person he is.
I am NOT trying to make him the person I want him to be.
Every day Aaron teaches me about courage, love, and tolerance. But he knows he can count on me, my husband, and his brother. He knows Annie, his caregiver will do her best to look out for him. He wants a new housemate, like his former housemate Jack who will be there for him. He knows his grandma and extended family including Ana and his niece love him just the way he is.
And until our dying breaths, we will do our best to make his life happy.
No, I’m not going to inject Aaron with an extra chromosome to make sure he is happy. No, I’m not going to give this thing we call “autism” supernatural powers to dominate his life.
But I will give him opportunities to make choices about his life as best he can–in spite of “autism.”
Yes, I can Love Aaron and Hate Autism.
Autism Awareness Day Marching On
Celebrate each wonderful individual person you meet in this video.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.
All my best,
Are you sitting there thinking, “how can this mother be an advocate for people with autism?” Do these words make you upset? Do you agree? Do you think “Disability World” thinks different than “The World”? Can we separate the individual from the label?
Here is another article about Autism Awareness Day asking people to do more than just wear blue.
The “R” Word: A Challenge to Bloggers.
Stop the “R” Word
March 6, 2013 is designated “Stop the ‘R’ Word day. If you go to their website they have many ideas for activities and actions. If we each do one thing, we can make a difference for the future of our children. Please share your thoughts and actions in the comments.
David Hinsburger and the “R” word.
David Hinsburger is an award-winning author and advocate for people with disabilities. His article titled: The People who “ARE” the “R” Word is a must read classic for anyone who doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about.
My Letter to a Major Blogger
As promised in my post “Definitions of “Retarded”, this is the letter I wrote to a major blogger when he used the words “retarded” and “idiot” in one of his posts. It is edited for this post.
I have followed your blog ____ for a long time and enjoy your stories, ideas and writing style. However, I have issues with your use of the words: “retarded, idiot, moron and imbecile.”
You have made strong statements about using whatever words you want–even if they offend people and hit their hot buttons.
You can use words like “idiot, moron, imbecile, crip, tard…,” but why?
I agree this is America and defend your right to freedom of speech. I agree people who find these words offensive can just unsubscribe. But… you are a smart and thoughtful person. Why would you want to purposely offend vulnerable people?
I would rather believe you don’t understand how much these words hurt.
Mental Retardation–two words that matter.
My son has the label of “mental retardation” now called an “intellectual disability.” Because of those two words, he was not allowed to go to public school.
Because of those two words we had to spend three years in court, costing thousands of dollars. We, along with other parents, had to prove our children were human and had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We had to prove in court that our son would benefit from being around other people and his mere presence on the school grounds would not harm other children. Because of those two words he was not allowed to participate in swimming lessons with the other kids in our neighborhood PUBLIC park. Because of those two words our family has been refused to be served in a restaurant and a Doctor refused to have our son for a patient…need I go on?
But our problems were minor compared to people with the label of intellectual disability in the past.Parallels in Time: A History of People with Disabilities
Just a generation ago, because of those two words, people were treated as animals instead of humans. They were sterilized, given doses of radioactive materials in their oatmeal. They were taken from their families (“for their own good”) and warehoused in inhuman institutions. Some were not given clothes and had to sleep on straw. They were denied even the most basic human rights–all because one psychologist in one situation gave them one test and labeled them those two words.
Most history books have made people with disabilities invisible. So, you probably aren’t aware, but the words: “moron, idiot and imbecile” came straight from the medical manuals of less than 40 years ago.
There are still churches which will not allow people with the label of those two words to marry, some churches do not even allow “those” children to attend their services or receive the sacraments. Many private schools and churches legally still segregate and discriminate against our children with those two words.
There are many normal couples who joyfully want a baby–until they hear those two words, and then immediately abort. There are Baby Doe cases where if the baby has Down syndrome and is assumed to have mental retardation, the family refuses to take the baby home from the hospital and refuses to allow the baby to have food. There are cases of “wrongful birth” where the parents sue the Doctors for allowing their child with “mental retardation” for being born.
In 2012 we can add the case of baby Amelia Riveria who was refused a transplant because she had an intellectual disability. The hospital has recently apologized.
“Mental Retardation, retard, retarded” are not funny words”
In Ohio, the state legislature passed a bill in 2009 to remove the words “Mental Retardation” from state agencies and its documents. This was the work of numerous advocates and thousands of hours of public hearings.
This is a civil rights movement where we are fighting for the right of our children to live, work and recreate in the community. The right to be seen as human beings and citizens of this great country.
Sticks and Stones … and words can hurt.
When a label carries enough stigma that the label alone can cause discrimination–the label is a problem.
The civil rights movement of the 60′s laid the ground work for Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act…. and our civil rights legislation, The American with Disabilities Act (1990). If you look at the closing statements in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) you will see the school district’s argument, (paraphrased) “If you let negro children in the public schools, the next thing you know the school will have to educate retarded children and Indians.”
In 2012, our children have the right to go to public schools, and restaurants cannot refuse to serve us, or ask us to leave because they don’t like “the way we look”.
This is NOT ancient history. This is NOT some group of radical parents and advocates who just want people to be politically correct.
Churches, non-public schools and organizations can still discriminate and decide who they allow in their churches but because so many of our children are going to school and living with their families in the communities, there is not the fear that once existed. And the medical professionals have dramatically changed their low expectations and acknowledge the limits of the IQ test and other measures they used to label people.
Sure this came about because of civil rights court cases and federal legislation, but mostly it happened as decent people decided to give people who were different a chance. I know it is unpopular to say that the Federal Government and Laws are important. Many people say there is too much government. I wish there was more protections and enforcement for vulnerable people.
Challenge to Bloggers
My challenge to all bloggers is:
Will you take cheap shots and continue hateful language which hurts people? Or, will you use respectful language and recognize people with intellectual disabilities are people and at least give us all a chance to build a better world.
Words have power. You have power.
Will you use your power to continue to hurt people, or for change?
I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but for those of us (like me) who have children with IQs below 50, children who were labeled “idiots” by our Doctors and medical professionals and who are struggling every day to try and make a better life for our children, the words: “retarded, idiot, moron, imbecile” are downright offensive. So forgive me that I rant today instead of ignoring it.
I know the words are used everywhere and people aren’t particularly trying to hurt people with intellectual disabilities but I would appreciate your consideration.
The blogger I sent this letter to agreed to not use the offensive language only asking that he remain anonymous. I consider that a victory for all of us, and it has made me a loyal fan.
Rosa’s Law was passed and signed by President Obama in 2009 to use People First language in all Federal documents. Love, NOT Labels| Rosa’s Law
I am hoping other bloggers will take up the challenge and use People First language and the words “intellectual disability” in a respectful way.
This is a fresh start. We can do it right this time.
What about you?
Will you take the challenge to remove the “R” word and other hurtful words from your vocabulary?
Will you help educate others who use the words?
Will you learn more about PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGE?
Talk to me in the comments. Let me know what you are thinking.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.
All the best,
Hi Everyone. Getting ready for summer vacations? Thought you might like to read about our family trip out West that changed our lives.
Oh Beautiful for spacious skies…
From the moment I was pregnant, my husband Tom dreamed of the day he could retrace his childhood trip out west. He glowed in the memories of mom, dad and kids studying the maps on the kitchen table, packing the lunch meat sandwiches in the cooler, and repeating the rest-stop conspiracy of Dad throwing the baseball high over his boys’ heads so they would chase the ball and use up some of that stored energy. The year our son Aaron was ten and his brother Tommy turned nine, faithful to Ulrich family tradition, we headed west. The main difference between my husband’s family, and ours, was that Aaron has autism.
Preparing for the trip
Aaron didn’t start walking until he was five, and even at ten was not completely independent in the bathroom. So how were we going to follow his needed routines for toileting, understand Aaron’s wants without the use of words or signs, watch his balance issues, and especially, cope with unpredictable behaviors? How were we going to manage twenty-one days of camping, sleeping, eating, and interacting with strangers in strange places? How were we going to survive–much less enjoy–visiting eleven National Parks and Monuments, twelve states, Mexico, and traveling five thousand miles?
Certainly, we were not the first family to attempt a western vacation with a child with complex needs, but we also knew we were not going to be “typical” tourists. Tom and I briefly considered leaving Aaron with a friend or in summer camp, but we decided this dream vacation included our “whole family.” We would make it work.
Adaptations and Accommodations
Using our teaching and parenting skills, we designed adaptations and accommodations for the trip. In previous years we camped in state parks and all shared a big tent. Aaron had a terrible time sleeping on the ground in such close quarters and often our sleeping bags got soaked in rain storms, so for this adventure we decided to buy a pop-up camper. Our pediatrician recommended some medication to help Aaron relax and sleep at night. We planned to follow Aaron’s schedule for meals, breaks, and sleep. We would only visit restaurants at non-peak hours, choose corner tables, avoid long waits, and skip most museums. We installed a child-proof lock on the car door and had a suitcase of games, music and snacks. Tommy and Aaron’s jobs on the trip were to crank up the camper each night and help carry the water buckets–jobs that were successful in our previous trips.
Oh Beautiful for pilgrim feet…
Like the pioneers of old, and Tom’s family a generation earlier, at dawn our family set out from Cincinnati with Tommy’s version of a “Colorado or Bust” sign taped to the windshield, driving not oxen-pulling-a-Prairie-Schooner, but a brown-station-wagon-pulling-a-pop-up-camper. We were confident we could handle any of the challenges we knew would come. We would enjoy our family-time and see the beauty of America. And fortunately, instead of mud and rock trails, we had interstate roads and could travel sixty MPH.
We Americans like to brag about being the melting pot and/or salad bowl of the world, a nation that values brotherhood and diversity.
Even with our best preparation, instead of a three-week vacation, this became a three-week teaching excursion. It seems the human America was not quite ready for us.
At home we were surrounded by people who know us; they saw the beauty in Aaron and our family. With the strangers we met on our journey, we had both negative and positive interactions.
Transformational Experiences, day after day
As if we had a disease, one family packed up their tent and moved it to a site on the other side of the campground, and a pregnant woman crossed the street so she wouldn’t have to pass us.
One evening Aaron was enjoying the loud echoes that he could make in the campground bathhouse, and a young boy ran out screaming, “The Hulk, the Hulk’s in there!”
An elderly man said, “We have one of ‘those’ in our family but he doesn’t travel, he lives in a home.”
“Mom, what’s wrong with that boy? Does he act that way on purpose?” The mother whispered, “SHHH, he’s retarded,” and like we were dangerous, yanked the child’s arm and dragged him away.
“Have you tried the Feingold or gluten-free diet?” or, “I know an allergist in Illinois who can get kids like that to talk.” It seems many people think they have the right to offer advice. I am sure they think they are helping, but do they really think we were so desperate we needed a consultation standing in line at the grocery? We struggle with the question: Can Aaron ever be accepted just the way he is, or does he only have value if he is “fixed” or “cured”?
In Arizona, we were asked to leave a family-style restaurant because, as the manager said, “We don’t serve people like him.” Tom and I were shocked because Aaron was happily eating his pancakes. If he had been noisy, we would have understood, but he was acting as normal as anyone. Sobbing, I hurried Aaron to the car wondering what we were going to do a thousand miles from home. I realized this was the lowest point of the trip and saw a glimpse of the discrimination that has followed individuals of other ethnic and racial groups. The stigma of being asked to leave a restaurant because some anonymous person didn’t like the way my son “looked,” and the management’s open prejudice presented an uncomfortable dark side of America I will never forget.
Oh Beautiful for heroes proved…
Our trip would have been devastating if only bad things happened, but we actually had some very positive experiences.
People would ask with smiles, “Where are you from?”, “Where did he get that red hair?” or “How old is he?” Just ordinary questions, but kind gestures and communication starters.
A parent of a child with Down syndrome commented, “I hope the programs in Ohio are better than in Missouri.”
One young girl smiled at us, “We have special kids in our school. My best friend’s name is Brian, he reminds me of him.”
Several children sought out seats next to Aaron and Tommy on a park swing, maybe just for a closer look, but they made eye contact and tried to make Aaron smile. Several gently pushed Aaron on the playground swings, merry-go-round, and gave him a turn kicking the soccer ball.
Aaron pinched me when we were rocking violently on a small plane sight-seeing ride over the Grand Canyon, the pilot said: “Don’t worry, I’ve had grown men reach over and hold my arm.”
At one roadside park all the visitors collectively held their breath as Aaron climbed the steps up a steep slide. Tommy guided him to the top where after much arm-flapping and nervous hand-biting, Aaron finally let go. As the wind struck his face and he barreled down the slide, Aaron’s expression was one of absolute joy. Everyone in the park clapped and cheered. This was not just a glorious moment for Aaron; this was a glorious moment for every person in the park.
In a swimming pool in Arizona, a life guard got in the water during her break and showed Aaron how to swim on his back.
On a train ride in Silverton, CO a little girl moved into the seat next to Aaron and taught him an adapted version of the game Connect Four.
A waiter in Mexico brought Aaron an extra pack of crackers while we waited for our meal and tried to entertain him by singing Old McDonald in broken English. He even helped cut up Aaron’s food. His empathy and understanding crossed national and language barriers.
Universal Design and Inclusion
In the National Parks we found many examples of universal design: accessible water fountains, paved paths, and self-guided tours enabled us to partially participate in the park activities. Several of the campground managers gave us campsites close to the restrooms. At Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico there were benches and a bypass for the steep climbs. A small work crew with disabilities in Grand Canyon National Park did yard work, and a waitress at Canyon De Chelly used sign language to take an order from a customer. These inclusive accommodations not only made it easier on us, they actually made us feel welcome.
Survival means Adapting to the Environment
We were ambitious. We flew above the Grand Canyon and went down in the caves of New Mexico. We had a lovely lunch at the Broadmore Hotel with water goblets and doilies, but were asked to leave a family style restaurant. We drove to the top of Pike’s Peak and the whole family climbed the ladders of Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace. We saw Native Americans adapt and survive their desert environment by seeing the value of every living plant and creature. We tasted jelly and saw sewing needles made from a cactus. We heard wolves howling, and we howled back singing every song we knew around the campfire. We took pictures and made memories that will last a lifetime. And perhaps like the Native Americans who live in the desert, we were learning how to adapt to our environment.
Lessons from the road
We were physically and emotionally exhausted. Many amazing things happened that brought our family closer together. At the same time, though, I feel Tom, Tommy, Aaron and I crossed the line.
We could no longer think of ourselves as a family with one member who happened to have a disability; we were truly a “disabled family.”
I am not trying to be shocking or dramatic. We just had to concede that most of the general public did not seem to have the motivation, information or skills to assimilate us into their version of a “typical family.”
We also learned we had no anonymity; we stood out even in the largest group. Five hundred people came to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns, but because of Aaron’s shout when the bats emerged; four hundred ninety-nine people were looking at us.
We learned that celebrating the diversity of the landscape of America includes seeing the beauty of the diversity of its people.
Our experiences reinforced our commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities to live, work, recreate, and go to school with their neighbors, brothers and sisters. We cherished the positive experiences; the children we met gave us so much hope for the next generation of Americans, and travelers. Like Johnny Appleseed on his trips out west, we tried to drop positive seeds that other pioneer families will nurture and see bear fruit. Perhaps a future Kodak moment for our country will include not only the beautiful American landscapes, but people like Aaron and our family.
Better than “The Buck Stops Here”
One last story: In Missouri, inside the Truman Memorial Museum with its high ceilings and big rooms, Aaron started, “vocalizing.” Oh, how it echoed. The guard came up to us and said either Aaron would have to be quiet or leave. Tom started to go, when another tourist came running from across the room. He looked the guard right in the eye and said, “How dare you speak to them like that. That young man is a citizen of this country and has a right to be here. Harry Truman was a strong supporter of the ordinary person. He, of all people would want them to be here.”
As we pulled the car into our driveway, Tom and I were wondering if it was worth it. Would we ever take another road-trip? But like always, our children showed us the way. As he was running into the house to be the first person in the bathroom, Tommy called over his shoulder, “Next year I want to go to Florida!”
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!
Add your voice:
Be sure to leave a comment and let me know about your travel adventures. Is it harder when you are away from home and your typical routine?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All the best,