I was asked to speak at an equality event today. About the access group (AFA) I’m chair of and a bit about my own story as a disabled person.
I think it well. I didn’t write a speech, I had a few ideas but wanted to just talk off the cuff. It helped that this is I think the third time I’ve explained to people what and why AFA is (although previously I’ve only done so in informal settings). The very first idea I’d thought of when thinking it over I forgot to use.
I talked about how I don’t suffer from CP because it’s all I’ve ever known. How just because me and another hypothetical person both use chairs doesn’t meant we have the same needs. And I talked about lots of other things. I can’t remember exactly, I wish I could.
One of the things I mentioned is how failing to provide access and inclusion doesn’t just mean I miss out. I shared the story of the Major Access Fail. Through that course I’ve made some new friends. But I’ve spent so much time fighting and arguing and being upset about that I feel like those new friends haven’t met me. They’ve met upset, depressed, fighter Em whose been made to feel worthless. They’ve not had the opportunity to meet happy, having a laugh Em who gets on with things, is confident, opinionated and loves life. Me.
After I finished speaking I went to the back of the room and the organiser leaned down and whispered to me “that was brilliant” so hopefully it worked. Next there were a few more speakers then time to mingle. During the mingling time I spoke to a few people and asked them if they thought it went ok. I was a little unsure I’d hit the brief. A few interesting comments, I think I might have got some people thinking.
Someone I vaguely know came over to chat. I think it was the third or forth time we’ve met. We did the usual “hi how are you?” bit and then telling me she’d liked my speech she burst into tears.
I froze and thought “oh shit”.
What I said was “I didn’t mean to make you cry.” hopefully she missed the panicked note in my voice
Through tears she shared why. She has a young granddaughter who has CP. Ever since the diagnosis she’s been upset about all the things her granddaughter wouldn’t do. Hearing me talk about my life gave her hope that things would be ok.
She told me the tears were happy tears, happy tears.
I gave her a hug and I must admit I had to fight off happy tears of my own.
I’m not sure what I said that helped, I never expected anything like that to happen. I’m not even really sure I did help, sharing struggles like that.
If I can make one person think differently about how they approach disabled people I’ve succeeded in my talk.
Reaching someone else and helping the family of a toddler have hope that a CP diagnosis isn’t the end of the world is huge. I don’t have the words to explain what that means to me.
It doesn’t negate the bad experiences I’ve had. They still hurt, they still shouldn’t have happened but will again. And in the case of major access fail its still outrageous. But being able to use that in a positive way takes away most of the sting of the memory.
It’s not OK.
But it sure as hell helps.