It’s the Not the Attention We Receive That Counts, it’s the Attention We Pay

“When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting” –
Jon Kabat-Zinn

I became a fan and follower of Jon Kabat-Zinn early in my career as a mental health therapist.  His teachings not only contributed to my job performance but blended well into my every day life.  Living with a disability while maximizing ones independence requires a “Mindfulness Based” approach.  I developed the habit at a very young age to scan and memorize every venue, room or situation I entered.  Walking on crutches made area awareness a necessity.  It has become like a muscle memory process for me and I honestly take if for granted.

Like so many things we often assume that other people use the same processes without realizing it is not as automatic to them.  I have found myself on too many occasions in a situation where a friend or acquaintance may have suggested meeting somewhere for some purpose (coffee, concert, theatre, etc) just to discover I couldn’t get in due to lack of access.  They had just never really noticed that “one” stair or the raised venue floor or, maybe, the bar type tables leaving me at eye level of the discussion.  Those are the little things I watch for but concepts that those not living the situation can so easily overlook.  They mean well, they just don’t understand the full ramifications of accessibility.

That Mindfulness Based Awareness is an ingrained part of my belief system and most of the time I’m not even aware I am using it.  Early in my career as a therapist, I worked with Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy.  That’s a concept based entirely on belief systems.  I do a regular inventory of my beliefs (times change) and the Kabat-Zinn thesis was a natural fit for my own belief system.  To be an effective activist you have to have some understanding the belief systems around you and I do pay attention to that.  I wouldn’t walk into a biker bar out in the middle of the desert and order a martini.  That’s a definite conflict of belief systems.

My generation was very fortunate to have lived in the shadows of the pioneers of disability activism.  They paved the way for access and disability equality that we enjoy today.  I was lucky to have been exposed and taught by some of the great mentors of the independent living movement.  Now I realize that so many of those great ones are living in the shade of the pleasantries written on their headstones.  The influential guru’s of my youth have slowly been leaving us.  I have attended too many funerals and presented too many eulogies to really consider myself a “junior” player now.

It is a difficult to accept, in part, because of the nature of the baby-boomer habit of denying aging but also the acceptance of the increased responsibility that comes with the mantle of experience.  It is easy to accept advances made as being “fixed” while watching from the sidelines the erosion of those accomplishments pushed through by our pioneers.  Access and rights are never “fixed”.  They can always be undone or eroded when people fail to pay attention.  With that said it is difficult to pay attention when you don’t know what you are looking for.

Much of the current generation of activists have little insight into their past.  They are working, like my generation was, on hopefully creating a better future.  It now falls on my generation to provide that same shadow I benefitted from with my pioneers.  We are now the “official” historians and advisors for the next generation.  We know what wasn’t there when we started, the current generation is working from a different reference point.

On a daily basis I encounter dozens of “little things” that highlight just how much still needs to be done.  It is frustrating to see so many administrative tool (policies and regulation) created in the past 40 years devolve into systemic barriers.  Those same legislative barriers have turned “disability” into a lucrative industry.  We have become a product of a legislative bureaucracy.

I took a CBC reporter out on Thursday to give him some exposure to what is passed off as access in Calgary (the same City that wants to bid for the 2026 Olympics).  I had him use my back-up chair to give him a bit more of a “real” taste.  Because it’s my back-up chair the tires were a little soft.  We stopped at the local service station to put some air in the tires (he was very appreciative because it made wheeling so much easier) but at the same time was blown away by the fact that I had to put $1.50 into the air compressor.  That was a level of attention he had never noticed before.  That may not seem like a lot of money to many but to those on low fixed incomes that is one more expense to cover.

When we were at the corner shown above in the video it took him a minute to grasp the concept.  The group that require the audible cross walk tend to be those who can’t read due to visual issues.  Access shouldn’t be rocket science.  After an hour which involved wheeling one square block he was tuckered.  It was cold, his hands were giving up and he had identified over a dozen of the “little things” we take for granted.  By the time he left here he had a much better understanding of why it isn’t the attention we receive but the attention we pay really meant.

Have a good one…





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