After 4 years of not flying, I flew to our company's national diversity conference this week. There were many highlights, but perhaps the best was meeting Bonnie St. John, talking with her, and then seeing her give a remarkable presentation.
In meeting her, it felt like meeting someone with whom I had gone to college, and it is difficult to explain why that is because we went to different schools.
In talking with her, she gave me suggestions on how to approach some difficult things - but they were different approaches, perhaps because of her background and life story.
Then she gave her presentation where the theme was "Aim Higher." Aim higher? That's different. I think I've encountered, either by just me, from people I know, or strangers, the following approaches given disability:
1. Aim to do something.
2. Aim (?).
3. Aim, but be cautious and don't expect anything.
4. You may be aiming higher, but we think aiming is enough.
When I enconter something other than these, I'm shocked, so often I'm lost in questioning whether I should aim, aim higher, in what, how, and will I have support given #4. Perhaps I can aim higher.
Another part that hit me from her presentation was a comparison. On the right she put a "box" of disability. On the left she put a "box" of African-American + woman. And then she considered some different data. There's a chart with employer considerations regarding people with disabilities. Some include whether they are willing to hire a person with a disability, whether they think a person with a disability can do a job, and whether employers actually DO hire people with disabilities. When standing on the right, as a person with a disability, these are typical questions. But stand on the left. What if these questions were asked about African-American women - are employers willing to hire them, can they do the job, do employers actually hire them? If these questions WERE asked, and the answers were similar to the answers for people with disabilities, there would be a societal uproar. But with people with disabilities, the thought tendency is, well, it looks a bit better, let's keep watching it. NO! Let's aim higher!
Then there was this realization. Bonnie pointed out that people with disabilities do not tend to ask for help. Why is this the case? I've actually been wondering that lately - why do I always wait for people to ask me? I get it now. I do not ask because there is underlying fear that I will be perceived as weak or perhaps pitied, when I want to appear strong and invincible. I must be perceived that way. How else can I begin to aim higher? This won't change unless society changes perceptions, but I don't see that happening. Bonnie walked a block and a half on her prosthesis for a week at a training and tore up her skin. I do similar, though different things.
Bonnie received one bronze medal for an event requiring 2 runs. After the first run she was in first. But for the second round, the course was changed and everyone was falling. Bonnie fell at the end, losing first place and ending in third. The difference? Someone else got up faster. It's a bit like a race I did in high school where I wasn't supposed to win and was in first. I got beat in the end. Afterward my coach, Jean Ann, who ironically now has ALS (which she says sucks) while I have MS (which I say sucks, though not as badly), told me "you could have won that race, you know?" Yes, I knew. I didn't have to get up faster, but I lost it right in the end because in a split second I doubted myself. That made the difference.
So we, and I, were moved. I laughed hard, cried a bit, was enlightened, had some concerns confirmed.
The rest of the conference was good. But this brought me to a new place.
And so I move forward with the belief I can aim higher.