A Restrained Question

I didn’t understand how trauma impacted kids but I knew what was happening was not normal.  With no children of my own, young kids were a bit foreign to me.
I was brought in as a substitute in a class of First through Eighth graders. Multiple sets of brothers and sisters in the same classroom was extremely abnormal.  In fact, I had never heard any district permit siblings in the same self contained classroom.  
 
I had never witnessed such brutality from children. The desks being thrown captivated my full attention until I realized the students were reacting to the teacher’s intimidation. There was nothing calming about this man’s nature and he justified his approach by handing me a gaggle of educational theory books. I stood by as long as I could take it and I went to the Principal’s Office. “Something is wrong with…” my words locked up until I realized I didn’t care if I was fired. “That guy…I don’t know. If he is using some restraint technique or approach, I’ve never heard of it.  I need to be trained immediately if you want me in there.  What I’m seeing in there is wrong.”
 
For the next two days, I was trained in some awkward restraint technique that seemed to be used to punish the kids rather than prevent danger.  The morning after my training was complete, I walked into the classroom. The Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and the Principal were waiting for me.  “We have reassigned the teacher.  We want you to take over the class.” the Principal said.  I was stupefied.
 
I quickly thought about what was most important to the safety of these students.  “I have two conditions. First, the restraints have to stop.  A student cannot be restrained unless I say it is ok.  Second, I have to teach these kids not to be so violent which means academics will take a back burner.  I don’t want to be questioned if the kids are not working on Math.  We will get to the core subjects in time.  They can’t learn anything as things sit now.”  These administrators had no reason to trust me but they knew I had the heart and the patience to help these twelve kids learn how to react calmer.
 
I pulled aside the two teacher’s assistants and I asked if they would agree to not restrain the kids unless I agreed it was necessary.  I asked if we could be a team.  “That teacher was crazy.  We did our best.  Yeah, we are with you.”  These ladies looked relieved that someone wanted to do something.
 
The children were violent.  They would punch, kick, and throw anything at anyone.  After school, I read their files.  Everyone had been abused in every way beyond comprehension.  The school was on the campus of a therapeutic facility only there was no therapy.  Their parents had abused and violated  the children.  The house parents/staff at the facility used restraints as a penalty and their last teacher restrained kids for more than two hours without interruption.  The students didn’t have any reason to trust adults and I was a male authority figure who they didn’t know and towered over them.
 
At every opportunity, I made sure to get down on my knees in order to be on their eye level.  I was more physically vulnerable to assault but I could not use any approach that seemed threatening.  I noticed a pattern quickly.  Restraints had to continue until I could eliminate the kids’ survival reactions and resulting violence.  If I had to restrain a kid’s brother, their sibling would punch a kid next to them.  I realized it was to distract the adult’s attention in order to protect their sibling.
 
I started calling the sibling over during the restraint.  These kids were professional evaluators.  They could see when an adult was being forceful, causing pain, and leveraging coercion to get the kid to stop their “ defiance”.  “Am I hurting your brother right now?”I would ask.
  
“Nah, he’s just mad.”  
 
I would process with the kid afterwards.  I asked the child why I felt it was necessary to restrain and what choices they could make differently.  I, also, processed with the sibling about why I restrained their brother or sister.  “When I restrained you last week, did I hurt you?” I questioned.
“No but I didn’t like it,” was the common answer.  Deconstructing the incidents, I expressed I wasn’t trying to hurt them.  
 
We got each student to reduce being restrained several times a day to once a week and even to as far as once a month.  We managed to reduce the duration of the restraint and get back to school work.  I even started to see the kids smile and laugh during the day.  
 
I still didn’t fully understand trauma.  I recognized the long term effects my choice to restrain a child would have on the individual student.  My psyche stayed in shock.  I was deeply upset how ferociously some children fought during the restraint.  Some would shake before a violent thrashing fit as the head butts, scratches, and kicks struck me.  There was no preparation during the training to do any self-care.  I guess I was supposed to suck it up and bury those feelings.
 
No matter that completely logical reasoning for the use of a restraint, my heart echoed the same question: “Will they ever forgive me?”  I physically restrained kids. First graders!  I put my hands on a child as they scratched, spit, snotted, and peed on me.  The child would be beating another student, the restraint was used to protect the other students.  Even in the obvious facts, I wondered, “Would they ever forgive me?”
The year ended and I had plans to find a different job.  I left that campus with an uneasy feeling.  I got a call a week later and they wanted me to come work during summer to move classroom equipment.  I needed the money.  I took the job.
 
At lunchtime, I walked in the cafeteria to get a salad.  I saw the students.  Each cottage had the students sitting at assigned tables.  I thought I went unnoticed.  I sat near the entrance with my back towards them.  I could hear my heart beat in my head.  
 
I had lost my appetite and started gathering my stuff.  I wasn’t cut out for working with kids who have endured abuse.  I was tormented by the question.  “Would they ever forgive me?”
 
One by one, the kids ran over to me.  They brought their lunches.  They told me about their summers and they asked me about my dog.
 
I am not a brave person.  It shook me to the core to have to guide a child’s survival reaction down to reality and let them know they were safe in my classroom.  I don’t know why adults hurt children.  Having to do the restraints had obviously affected me deeply.  
 
For the next few weeks, the kids got permission to leave their assigned tables to sit with me for lunch.  I listened to the stories of swimming in the pool, going to the recreation center, and plans for the afternoon.  While they laughed and recounted their day, my thoughts wandered to my unanswered fear.
 
When they came over.  When they chose to sit with me and they authentically smiled, I found a resolution.  I got the answer to my question.

The Untold Legacy of Edgar

Hamlin, Texas is a world away from “city life”.  The high school mascot is the Pied Pipers.  It is the type of town that had one stop light and a Dairy Queen; farms in every direction with large grain silos next to the railroad tracks.  Edgar was raised without a mother as she passed away in his early childhood.  Cultivated by the ethics of long days and elbow grease, he knew he had to earn his wages in sweat.  Designated to be on the front lines of the Normandy Invasion, Edgar was sent home three days before D Day because his only son had become gravely ill.  It was thought his son would not make it and Edgar was granted a pass to see his son before he passed away. 
His heir recovered and Edgar was sent back to fight the Nazis.  Upon his return, Edgar worked at a grocery store and worked his way up.  As Edgar earned more promotions, he learned how to run a business.  Not from college or a seminar, his lessons were taught by tedious duties, common sense, and long days working with customers. 
 
Edgar took a chance and found a business partner. The partner would put up half the money and Edgar would run the Piggly Wiggly.  Every new employee went through Edgar’s unique orientation on the first day. After sweeping the store and straightening the items.  Edgar would send the new employee on an errand.  They would be instructed to go to the Chrysler House and ask for Mr. Buford.  “He borrowed my shelf stretcher and I need it back.”  The employee would walk to the car lot only to be told that Mr. Buford had loaned it to Mr. Fowler at the bank.  Mr. Fowler would send the employee to the town’s mechanic and then to the feed store.   Each place would send the kid all over until the employee realized that there was no such thing as a shelf stretcher.  Edgar paid the employee for the full day of work, and though, they were part of the “joke,” the employee also earned knowledge of the town’s business owners.    Edgar was known for being quite a character in the town of Hamlin.
 
Not only dedicated to practical jokes, he was committed to his Faith in God.  Edgar purchased an audio recorder.  This machine used a magnetized, metal wire to record sound.  Edgar would set up this 1950s state of the art device at the front of the church to capture the sermon for the week.  Edgar would take the recording to the hospital and play it for the patients who wanted to be at the service but lacked the health to be there.  Edgar was Hamlin’s first podcaster!
 
Being a small town where everyone knew each other, certain businesses allowed customers to charge the items on a tab.  Sometimes, the local farmers would run low on cash and had to wait to be paid.  Edgar had a business to run and a family of five at home.  Extending credit was risky but something Edgar was willing to do.  At the end of the year, Edgar would examine the accounts passed due.  Without fanfare or any public awareness, Edgar would call in three or four of the individuals with outstanding debt.  Edgar sat them down privately, listened to their stories, showed them their tab, and ripped it up.  He gave them a fresh start.  He knew the people’s situation and wanted to show them some compassion.  No matter the amount, the customer could begin the year without the burden of debt.
 
Edgar’s business acumen is not a part of trendy coursework.   Focused on lowering cost and maximizing profits strategies tend to be the foundation of every company’s mantra.  His approach brought his family success as he retired earlier than most folks his age.  Edgar didn’t do it for publicity or a tax write-off. He allowed his heart to guide his ethics.  People used to live by honor, a handshake, and their word.  Edgar lived by his Faith and never pushed his thoughts on others.  Edgar led by example even if no one was watching.
 
In popular culture, people long for days passed and seek a common code of conduct.  What is stopping you if you feel that way?  Don’t wait for others approval, blaze your own path.  Find that inner voice and serve others in a way that feeds your soul.
 
Edgar did not find the key to life by a personal growth book or seminar.  He behaved in a manner he wanted others to follow.  For him, the Good Book and family filled his cup.  I never heard anyone publicly acknowledge or carry on the generosity Edgar showed to the community.  I would hope anyone touched by Edgar’s practice and, now, the act of passing on of this story would consider helping someone in need.  What distinguished Edgar’s approach is he didn’t wait for the person to ask for help.  Edgar followed his heart.  Edgar was not trying to change the world.  He sought to change the world for each individual.
 
Edgar had three children but, honestly, he was a father to the community.  With a little courage, all of us could take the time to acknowledge an individual’s humanity & frailty.  With Edgar as my grandfather, I feel like I can pass on his legacy in my own way.  Connecting with my family’s roots only makes me stronger.

My Guide Dog

I felt a passionate calling during my last year of graduate school to get a guide dog. I called my neighbor, who is blind, and she invited me over for a talk. For three hours, we cried as stories were recounted by my neighbor and her son. I even got to hold Sparkle’s harness. As she let me hold the empty harness. I did not comprehend the significance of the series of confusing straps of leather. Now I understand.
Guide dogs are branded like shoes, sodas, and cars. Seeing Eye Dogs are based in New Jersey. Guide Dogs for the Blind and Guide Dogs of America are out of California. Leader Dogs for the Blind is in Rochester, Michigan. Each school has benefits and training styles that will appeal to certain personalities.

Leader Dogs is the only accredited guide dog school that trains guide dogs for people who are blind and deaf. Any organization with proactive programs has my loyalty. Another pivotal factor in determining which school would be the best was my neighbor’s experience with Leader Dogs.

The stud came from a bloodline of hunting Labradors. Two veterinarians controlled certain characteristics and Paradox-Obsidian was born. From a linage of show dogs, the mother is named Knickers.

The litters of future Leader Dogs were assessed for the right temperaments & trainability benchmarks. The dogs with the “Right Stuff” were given to certified puppy raisers. The other dogs got adopted. Puppy raisers are volunteers who dedicate a year to raise the dog, train the dog on obedience, socialize the dog to other animals & people, and get to pick the name. “Amy” who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan had raised sixteen Leader Dogs. Only allowed to have one dog at a time, Amy sacrificed time & energy so others may enjoy the independence & companionship a guide dog provides.

On June 3rd 2012, I met my guide dog for the first time. It was after a morning of Orientation with the trainer. As the trainer controlled an empty harness, I learned the correct commands to use. “Your dog’s name is Perry,” she said as she left the room to bring him to me.

Puppy raisers often associate the dog’s name with the number of years correlated with the alphabet. Since he was Amy’s seventeenth dog to raise and “P” is the seventeenth letter of the alphabet, she searched for a “P” name. A fan of the cartoon Phineas & Ferb, there is a black platypus known as Perry (Special Agent P). Perry is her favorite character. Also adding to a thoughtful tribute, one of her Commanding Officers while she was in the military was named Perry so the name was signed, sealed, and delivered. After a year with Perry, Amy handed him over to Leader Dogs for six months of guide dog training.

Upon meeting Perry, I video-conferenced with my wife in order for her to share the moment. I got on the floor as a year & a half old puppy with huge paws was brought to me on a leash. Vapor locked, I could only feel Perry’s features as Jennifer described Perry to me.

Leader Dog uses a positive reinforcement model. Verbal praise, comforting touch, and treats round out the strategies to encourage desired behaviors. Managing the dog’s weight is, also, a component of the program. Perry’s eatable rewards are baby carrots. Low in calories, Any carrot is usually devoured quickly by Perry for stopping at curbs or stairs, navigating us around branches hanging over or an object on the ground, and riding an escalator.

The physical setup of the Leader Dogs campus is designed for people who are blind. Each person with their dog has a private room. Outside of each person’s door is a common area where the dogs “park”. Park is the term for relief either liquid or solid. Perry & I met in the afternoon. The following morning at 6:30am sharp, each person and their dog are expected to meet outside with their dog on leash. Guide dogs are trained not to park if the harness is on. Perry hurriedly spun in circles and I heard that unmistakable sound off urine hitting the gravel. Trainers monitored the client’s reaction and made suggestions to encourage the dogs to relieve themselves.

Overwhelmed by all of the voices and Perry’s enthusiasm, I was caught off guard as a trainer handed me a baggie. “Perry just parked. Reach down to your right about three feet to your side.”
I was so confused. What had I signed up for by getting a guide dog? To spare you some of the details, it took three large sandwich baggies to get it all. I wondered if everyone else had to do this or was I on some obscure reality show. “Stay tuned as we convince the blind man to find and pick up dung.”

Perry has always had one speed – “GO!” As we practiced in door travel, The PearBear walked incredibly fast. I wondered if Perry was the right dog for me since I could barely keep up with him.

Each of the guide dogs were matched to the dog handler’s personality. The veteran had the controlled, stoic dog. The girl fresh out of high school got the dog who wanted to explore the world. The lady who was meek & mild received a precious & polite dog. The young woman who came off as brash was bestowed the mischievous dog. Perry has proven to be intensely fierce and an enigma to figure out.

Perry is like the Swiss Army Knife of guide dogs. Perry, in harness, blends in with his surroundings. While attending a gala of affluent people, Perry laid low and never garnered any negative attention. On our daily routes, Perry scans back and forth like a Roman sentry. As I counseled clients during my Social Work internship, Perry slept under my desk and would let out a sigh during a needed moment of levity. The Gentle Giant, Perry is a reserved hospital visitor or the focus of a presentation about guide dog etiquette. On our daily route, his fierce determination navigates us through obstacles and unrelenting commuters.

Perry has three distinctive modes. While in harness, Perry is all business and is considered “working”. Out of harness and on leash, Perry knows certain behaviors are expected but he has more freedom to seek affection and investigate the environment. Off both harness & leash, Perry is a normal dog.

Perry has brought the world back into a three dimensional realm for me. Isolated due to a lack of options, mobility, and emotions, I sheltered in place to shield me from a sighted world. Having Perry, I am responsible for his daily exercise and training. As stated previously, Perry loves to work and will prod me until I submit to the pressure. In the beginning, we would walk for thirty minutes at a time which was both of our limits. After an hour to recover, Perry pounced, barked, and nosed me for a second route. After the second thirty minutes of “work”, the exercise satiated his desire to work and sedated the beast. Perry is my accountability buddy and does not care about excuses. He wants to “work”!

Perry has picked up my routine before going on our several mile walks. If he notices I’ve started to stretch or clip on the pepper gel spray, Perry nudges, pounces, and barks until he is put in harness. He stands at the door with his harness strapped around him. Staring out the window, Perry is like a horse at the starting gate. He waits as I close and lock the door. His guidance and thrust show restraint until we clear the driveway and then it is full throttle, redline until he is spent. At the beginning of our journey, Perry’s Full Tilt towards the windmills of adventure was too fast for me. As our trust & bond have grown, my ability to keep up with him has accelerated. His nature is determined and focused. Perry cannot be forced to do something he does not want to do. The Force is strong in him.

Some will assume that Perry is my best friend. I understand the implication. Jennifer is my soulmate and best friend. Now, Perry & I are intertwined and he is a thoughtful companion. He is a solid reminder to be resilient, stay focused, and be joyful. As I hurried into a job interview, my mind raced through statistics and appropriate stories for the interviewer. I could feel the stress course through my veins as Perry suddenly stopped and pulled to the left. I knew we were next to the building lined with planters. Two workers standing out front remarked that my dog was sniffing the flowers. Perry has had an affinity for sweet smelling blooms. It was a good lesson that we should remember to stop and sniff the flowers.

One Facebook friend observed that Perry is the Dog of a thousand hashtags. From our first day together, Perry had numerous names such as: Special Agent P, The Bear, Pawed Prince of Burleson, AutoPerry, iPerry, PerryPrecision, His Perryness, Perry Manilow, Moose, Monster, Hoover, Perry The Prancer, Pierre, my Perrysympathetic Nervous System, and the most recognizable moniker “PearBear.

Very much like me, Perry knows how to work a crowd; however, it is obvious there becomes a saturation point. Most people do not recognize certain quirks or signs that we need breathing room. Maybe he isn’t like me. It could be that his perception reads that I am the one who needs space.

Having a guide dog is like being a celebrity of sorts. One cannot walk into a store without turning heads or unleash a gaggle of whispers. Often approached, curious questions are posed by admirers. As soon as someone finds out his name, the baby talk begins and a bit of distraction ensues. When Perry is working, he won’t even look people in the eye.

The harness I snap around Perry is a lot more than straps of leather I cling to as we traverse the environment. The feedback running up my fingers and arm alerts my senses to what Perry notices, where he wants me to go, and when I need to stop. The harness signifies to people that Perry is not just a pet. Perry is a service dog.

Perry’s harness represents freedom, accessibility, and openness to whatever opportunity may materialize for us. Over the course of two years, Perry has tugged me around the streets, brought huge belly laughs to our family, invigorated our other black lab’s playtime, allowed me to focus my energy towards positivity, comforted Jennifer while she grieved her father, and helps me charge through Life’s barricades I never knew were there. Together, Perry & I have an agreement to take care of each other. I get the best deal out of our arrangement as I gain independence for the price of a handful of baby carrots.

One day, I will have an empty harness. A worn sequence of leather straps will sit perched on a door knob. Someone may come to my house and want to know what it was like to have a guide dog. I will let the person hold the harness. There is no way to fully represent what that harness has seen with Perry wearing it. To the average person, they may be unaware the harness is not the only thing that will be empty inside.

Guest Blog by Cheryl Essex

Several times throughout my career I have been asked “ Why do you teach? What inspired you to teach?” I know what people are assuming my response will be, expecting to hear about my passion for education and desire to inspire young minds. A teacher is often the gatekeeper of knowledge, but hopefully even more so, the catalyst for developing the habit of learning. But I don’t teach for that reason, really. I am not overly concerned about algebra, endoskeletons, grammatical mastery, or even academic advancement. I am invested all because of a deck of cards and a seed planted, along with a series of events that at the time seemed like an albatross searching for truth within broken mirrors and Nevermores.

I should probably interject at this time that I spent several years dancing in old poetry as a teenager. When I was approximately two years old, the most likely place you would have found me was attached to my mother in some way or at least in close proximity. As I grew older, the ultimate torture for me was to be placed in social situations which forced me to interact with other children my age. Now mind you, I was fine with my extended family,…as long as my mother remained in my range of vision. But when it was time to venture off to the world of Academia, and the initiation into autonomy, I still remember the panic and misery that quickly developed. I wanted to remain at home, always, in my room that became first my refuge and then later an asylum for the dysfunctional …but that is another story.

So the reason I now teach can be traced back to a scheduled Show and Tell Day, my kindergarten year. I don’t remember much about that classroom, or details about the teacher. I do recall my offering for that day, though. It was a tiny deck of cards, small even for my five year old hands. These had been purchased from a gumball machine, and were of supreme quality. The morning of the event, my teacher, to remain nameless, collected our items and placed them in a wicker basket behind her desk. The anticipation of showing my prized possession hung in the air around me throughout the early part of the day, making the time seem stagnant. Then it was announced we would break for recess and upon returning the treasures would be revealed. The excitement was almost too much to bare.

And then, came the moment- We reentered the building and moved toward our assigned seating. But in the process of doing so, an outbreak of upset occurred. The scene of the upcoming tragedy had been laid out. On the floor behind the teachers desk was scattered all the little offerings for time of Show and Tell. The basket had mysteriously dumped over. My tiny deck of cards had been thrown about and several items were broken. And then began the most horrible unfolding of all. The teacher, to remain nameless, and from that moment heartless and irredeemable to me, grabbed her broom and dust pan. She quickly begin to contain and dispose of the debris, the messy cheap trash she would now be spared from hearing boring tales about.

The event, in my memory wasn’t discussed and quickly dismissed. I now suspect the teacher was O.C.D.. So, of course, my deck of cards were gone forever and sadder yet, pure innocent trust. I truly don’t remember that teacher’s name. And now as an adult, I accept she wasn’t really Satan. Actually, I might still think she is Satan, but don’t want to have to undergo therapy so I will deny it. As an adult, I realize she had no idea how much damage she did that day. Obviously, I now realize what a silly, insignificant loss it was compared with real, inconceivably unbearable issues faced by so many children in the world. But, for me a seed was planted. That seed remained cold and undeveloped at the age of eleven.

To note, life had been mostly smooth in those formative years, especially compared to what I know of the average homelife of students today. But that year initiated me into an abyss of alienation that still reserves a corner of my mind, even to this day. I didn’t fit. Nothing fit. The world then was like what I can now compare to the Matrix, and I felt lost and alone. I lived in books and daydreams. At school I found ways to assimilate on the surface, however, it was miserable, and I hid behind layers of masks and fabrications. No one saw me, really. And eventually I preferred it. And then one day I was okay. Well, sure, that is how the story ends.

Not really, of course, but this isn’t about endings, really. This story is about inspirations and beginnings. So, the seed did bloom one day, and with it came the desire to grow and to make that barren place healthy again. But, ironically, it wasn’t a desire to grow myself. The need had been planted to help children. It was ingrained in me to find those children whose cards had been scattered and tossed; that were lost in books and shadows. I returned to the classroom to be that teacher who cares. The one who truly listens to the Show and Tell and watches and tunes in for the Unseen and Not Told. So, even though I bear the title of ‘teacher’, I am actually in the classroom to insure children don’t end up in dustpans. So there is my story, but in closing don’t forget: It isn’t my fault I am not dealing with a full deck. ( I teach Middle School, of course).

Cheryl Essex is an award winning teacher at a middle school near Fort Worth.  Her unique perspective and outstanding work ethic triggered the request for her to write a guest post.

Please comment and hopefully she will be open to writing more articles.
Cheryl, thank you for sharing an insight for all of us to benefit.
    —Chad

Who’s on first?

I had an Abbott & Costello moment as I volunteered at a food pantry.  As I was unloading boxes and stacking the contents into sorted groups, the confusion began.

“Oh, we have too many of these and we need some over there,” was told to me.
Hard Reality #1, blind folks are not sure when a person is speaking to them. All too often, a person walks by and says, “Hello! How are you?” We begin to answer as the certain someone, the person was directing the greeting towards, then answers. The person and the blind person both feel awkward. “Oh, I was saying ‘Hi’ to you, too!” is a common response I’ve dealt with as of the last few years. In a way, it is a conditioned response for us to wait to be named or we clarify, “Are you speaking to me?” “Ah, no, I was saying ‘Hi’ to my friend.: is what we get back the majority of the time.
“I’m blind. Are you speaking to me: I asked.  “Yes, yes, half of this needs to go over there.”
Hard Reality #2 Words like “There”, “These”, “Those”, “Over there”, “That”, “Here”, “This”,and other ambiguous terms mean very little to blind people. We are not stupid. Now wait, some blind people are stupid but it has nothing to do with their blindness. Our eyes don’t work correctly. If a table exists five feet away, it might as well be forty feet away because we don’t know it exists unless we are told. A circus clown could be waving at us and unless the clown is squeezing their honking nose, we would never know.
I stop the person and explain that open term like “these” or “there” do not detail what is expected.
 “I am blind. I need you to be specific. Are you talking about the stacks of mash potatoes or the stacks of hash browns?”
“Yes.”
Attempting to clarify, “Both?” “No, these ones.”

Hard Reality #3 There are not a lot of blind people in public life. People with disabilities are like unicorns or mythical creatures. Crazy comparison? I’ll prove my point. An average person finds out I’m blind, 98% of the time they tell me about a blind person they saw once. How many times do you see a blind person shopping at a retail store. Thank you. I proved my argument. Rainbows are more frequent than blind people in public. Spotting a blind person is like seeing a rainbow. If the person is deaf AND blind, you got yourself a double rainbow there! Given the status of public transportation in certain geographic areas, getting around in the community has its challenges. Going to the store, work, doctor, or to volunteer can be problematic. Jennifer took off work so I could volunteer.

Buying into my assertion that the general public has rare opportunities to interact with people with disabilities, awkward circumstances can occur. I don’t fault able bodied individuals for not knowing the etiquette and not every person with a disability will interact in the same way.
In the now cancelled NBC show “Growing Up Fisher”, one of the priceless lines the lead character used when interacting with a person in the general public, “In case you are blind, I’m blind.” Ask my buddy Jason Rudd, telling someone that “I am blind” was very difficult. It is a Hard Reality that we, as people with disabilities, have trouble dealing with over time. We don’t want to be prejudged so I used to say, “I’m visually impaired” which Rudd pointed out means “zero” to the average person. “You have to tell them in words they understand. What does visually impaired mean? They don’t know. Say you are blind and work from there.” Good advice that I use. By the way, Mr. MaGoo was visually impaired.
“Ok, so there is another table and it is where?” I asked.
“The table is over there.” the person stated.
“Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I need to know where the table is located specifically,”” I restated.
“Next to the other tables.” the person explains.
Hard Reality #4 Like any other person, people with disabilities have anxiety and internal dialogues. My heart rate increased and I could feel myself begin to shut down. I am volunteering because I want to prove that I can still contribute and I’m just trying to fit in.
After a deep breath, “I am not understanding what you would like me to do.”
“There are too many of these and they need to be over there,” the individual “details” to me.
With my eye brows raised, “I am sorry but I’m blind. I need you to tell me where the table is – exactly.”
The person says, “Behind me.”
“How far behind you?” I inquire.
“A few feet,” the person replies.
“Ok, how many boxes need to go to the table behind you?” I ask.
“Oh, about half,” the person says.
Not wanting to give up, “Ok. you say half but do you mean half of what I have unboxed and stacked or half of ALL of the mash potatoes?”
“Oh, half of the mashed potatoes. Can you understand that?” the person asked to me.
Do you remember the old school Bruce Banner when he started to get mad and you could see he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk? I was there but my shades masked the internal fire that blazed from my eyes.
“Do you want me to continue to unbox the mash potatoes?”
“If you want,” the person states.
“Ok, here’s my idea. I’ll unbox the rest of the mash potatoes and stack them. Once I do that, I’ll move half to the table behind you. Does that work?”
“I guess.” the person says as they walk away.
In my head, I pictured the images of Costello ripping the hat from his head while Abbott explained the name of the guy on First Base. I tore open the boxes of mash potatoes and stacked the individual boxes. My skin became less green.
Hard Reality #5 A huge majority of people who are blind are unemployed or under employed. There are many reasons. Now, I gave up on my dream to be a Driving School Instructor and I’ve set my sights on being a Social Worker. I applaud the people who are blind and have jobs. Being employed reinforces self worth and dignity. Contributing to the community, also, has superb value. While we can be seen as often as the Unicorn, people with disabilities are very real. We want to be included. We want that opportunity.
I would like to write further; however, a chupacabra is stopping by for lunch.