(Confession: I was trying to do that last week, too, until I realized that I was answering a prompt for a previous summer’s blog hop. Oops.)
This week I’ve got it together, and I’m starting off with the first prompt for this summer’s With a Little Moxie Blog Hop. Meriah Nichols has come up with some thought-provoking prompts about disability for this summer’s blog hop. The first one, posted June 20, was “My Connection with Disability: An Introduction”.
I’m writing about a friend for this week’s blog entry, with her permission. She’s intellectually disabled. I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain to her clearly what I was doing, but I’m satisfied that I got across to her that 1) I appreciate our friendship 2) I would like to tell other people about it, because I think it’s special and it’s important to me. 3) I would protect her privacy, but some people may guess who she is. I’ve read the post to her, and she seems okay with everything.
So, here’s how I got started in the disability field, long before I acquired my own visible disabilities (or learned to acknowledge my invisible ones).
“Get Some Experience”
When I was fifteen, I saw a video at youth group about a man named Harold Morris who was put in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit. When the truth came out and he was released, he started a career working with at-risk youth. As my mother drove me home, I declared that I wanted to be a social worker.
“Get some volunteer experience with social work agencies to put on your resumé,” she said. I don’t think she thought I was serious.
But I was. I answered a call for youth representatives to the steering committee that was investigating the implications of amalgamating four children’s social service agencies in my county into one. And I also called an agency that supported intellectually adults about an ad it ran in the newspaper. They were looking to match community members up with people they supported to see if some friendships would develop.
I was matched up with a woman named Ivy, who probably wasn’t much old then than I am now. She lived in an apartment, and worked a number of jobs, both paid and volunteer, in the community. We went for a walk during our first visit, and got ice cream.
She had a speech impairment, and I found it very difficult to understand what she was saying, but we got through it. Sometimes I still have trouble understanding her. When I do, she patiently repeats herself and, when possible, shows me what she’s talking about.
We decided to meet again. We went out for coffee, but both us of us ordered Diet Coke. The friendship was cemented from there.
I really hadn’t had much experience with disabled people before I met Ivy, and I’d had practically no experience with intellectually disabled people. Spending time with her was what first really made me realize that disabled people and non-disabled people are the same in many more ways than they are different.
Pre-stroke, when I could drive, Ivy loved going for road trips, cranking up the music, and singing along, just like me. She still loves it when we get together for movies and snacks, go out for lunch or dinner together, or go to any kind of theatre (but especially musicals, just like me).
When we travel together (as we have a few times), she’s up for anything. She’s got the most adventurous spirit of just about anyone I’ve ever known. And while something (sometimes a couple of things) invariably happens on our vacations that makes me look skyward and yell, “Really? You’re going to drop this on two disabled women while they’re in a strange place with no easy way of getting home? Thanks! Seriously!”, she just takes it all in stride.
We’ve seen each other through health challenges and always cry a little bit, until the other one says, “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
She loves my family. She used to spend holidays with us, but her circles are a little wider now and my family’s circumstances have changed, and that doesn’t happen so much anymore. But I know that my mom liked having Ivy over for especially Christmas cookie making, when she and my sister and father and I would sit at the kitchen table and make Christmas shapes out of molasses cookie dough, and Mom would be in charge of baking. Inevitably a flour fight would break out, and Ivy would stare at us in horror, but she always came back.
It was my mom’s idea, when Ivy moved into a new apartment in my last year of high school, that she and I go over after school on moving day with cookies and some deck chairs for her balcony. Ivy was so happy. She really liked my mother. I remember Mom saying to me on the way home, “Your friendship with Ivy has been good for you, and it’s been good for her…and it’s been good for our family as well. I’m so glad that you brought her into our lives.”
And one day, Ivy and I were walking down the main street in our small town and a teenage boy sitting on the sidewalk called her a name. We kept walking, but when I looked over at her, she was crying. As I’ve said before, at that point in my life I was a renowned conflict-avoider who wouldn’t yell if I was on fire. But that day I marched back to the boys and said, “I hope you’re you happy with yourselves – you made her cry.”
They just looked at me, surprised.
“Her name’s Ivy,” I said. “And I don’t ever want to hear any of you call her a name again.”
I was so pissed off. I think it was when I started to become an activist.
Not Without Ivy
Since that time, I’ve worked with the agency that matched me with Ivy as a cooperative education student in both high school and community college, a Supported Independent Living staff for a very short time in the summer of 1999 (until I had my surgery), a volunteer in just about all their programs, 5 years as a transition planner for high school students, and a year as a member of their Board of Directors. It was volunteering with that agency while I was waiting to hear when my surgery, still totally unsure what I wanted to do with my life apart from the fact that I had a ticking time bomb in my head, that made me think, “Hey, I like working with people with disabilities, and I’m not half-bad at it…why have I never considered doing this work as a career?” I’d actually applied for a DSW program at a community college and been accepted before I was informed what my surgery date was going to be.
And then, because people who have had a stroke tend to be, uh, overly-optimistic about recovery time, I figured I’d still be able to go in September, but I don’t believe it was very long after before I decided that deferring might be a good idea. I remember making the call from the first rehab centre, so it was at least 5 weeks after the stroke, though.
But that’s a story for another time. My point is that I may never have gotten on the path I’m on, and may not have been as well-equipped as I was to adjust to a new life of being disabled, if it hadn’t been for Ivy. She’d touched my life, and the lives of so many others in the community, in so many positive ways. I knew that there was no reason that I couldn’t do that as well, no matter how much of my mobility I got back.
Not that it’s always easy for Ivy. But I’m happy that I can help when it’s not easy. That’s what friends do.
I’ve seen many times now, in my work in the developmental services field, that agency supports are vital. But I’ve also seen that often it just takes one friend in the community to make an amazing difference in a person’s life. I don’t know that I’ve made an amazing difference in Ivy’s life, but I know that she values our friendship, and I certainly value hers.
She is like family to me.
Check out what others have written about “My Connection with Disability” for the With a Little Moxie Blog Hop here.