History never really says goodbye. History says “see you later” – Eduardo Galeano
Between dealing with the “normal” aging process of a non-conventional body and watching the erosion of disability rights I have been withdrawing into a numbness. I feel like I have been fumbling around a dark tunnel for the past three years while searching for a light at the end of the tunnel by feeling along a wall that seemed never ending. It is a slow process pushing a wheelchair while continually stopping long enough to reach out and touch the wall. The ability to feel that wall was the only anchor to hope one had in the darkness.
Each time I perceived some light at the end of the tunnel a mist would creep in to blanket out that light. Often that mist was the creation of the erosion of rights or the neglect to access. Systems that were established thirty or more years ago to make life easier for a segment of the community, those with disabilities, had slowly evolved into a wall of stress that turned those needing the supports to a product for a system of jobs for administrators. By keeping those needing the supports the most in the dark these workers were protecting their futures.
I stopped writing, I stopped socializing, I was overcome with darkness and met nothing but further rejection whenever I attempted to speak out. I had entered the twilight of depression and allowed the mist of solitude to envelope me. I was questioning my purpose continually. After over 45 years of fighting for rights I was taking on the mantle of failure. I was personalizing the failure of the social safety net and creating a vicious circle of entrapment. I started to realize I had to adapt or succumb. I am not good at succumbing or quitting so I took a lighter out of my pocket and shone the light forward.
I was beginning to see a light at the end of that tunnel but it required me taking action I had been denying. It meant giving up on others and focusing on myself. As a life-long advocate I have always been very good at finding solutions for others while ignoring the personal barriers I may have faced. I had always overcome my barriers by opening doors for others. That was my strength and that was the light I needed to see. I had to return to the beginning and get back to basics for myself. That meant me leaving the situation I was in rather than trying to make the situation fit me. There was no option for “fit” so I had to remove myself from the situation, I moved.
I returned to Calgary and it truly feels like home. Over the years my path has taken me from Montreal to Vancouver Island with many stops in between however I have always returned to Calgary. I guess that is why I refer to it as “home”.
Being back in Calgary is like listening to the Little Orphan Annie song “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and tomorrow has arrive. I am home and adapting. I am returning to basics and ready to challenge living again. It may not be perfect yet but I am ready. What has also become apparent is how little people in my situation know of their past.
There is a rich and empowering history to the disability rights movement. Much of that history has been lost on a whole generation of disabled (post 1980) which is causing more lost time in repeated battles for access. Many of these battles have been fought (and won) in the past so it is also time to return to basics. Now that I am home and ready to return to basics I need to focus on mentorship rather than advocacy. I believe good education can help avoid a lot of conflict.
If you are unaware of the history behind disability rights you cannot be an effective agent of change. You will find yourself becoming a champion of conflict and that is a road to failure in the long term. Understanding the history and knowing the past battles will make you a more effective change-maker…