For All Of Us #NDEAM

Posted by Candace Cable in Life After Paralysis on October 13, 2015 # Advocacy and Policy

In America each month of the year has awareness of something or other attached to it. I have to admit I like this awareness game we play, I like that consciousness is required of us about topics we may or may not be comfortable with or want to think about. But we need to think about some of this to stay healthy or to even do something to create an equitable world for all people to thrive, participate and contribute to society. October has multiple awareness subjects to ponder and take action on. One of the many is National Disability Employment Awareness or #NDEAM and this is one that I take personally because I love my work.

Recently I was visiting shops, making my rounds, completing my errands as I do each week. As is typical, there is some item on my list on the highest shelf, where I cannot reach it. I look up one end and down the other of the aisle hoping for a brief encounter with a person taller than me, to fetch the object of my desire, so I can continue on my way. Just then two women round the corner headed toward me and I make my request.

"Hello, could you please help me?" They both, in unison looked at me with eyes filled with worry and an uneasy question, not really sure if they could help me. When I see that kind of look and that look is really quite common, I quickly add, "I can't reach something." This immediately will sooth their clear uneasiness at being so close to one so unfamiliar and shows them I offer not harm, I come in peace, I'm only a person in need of simple to preform, assistance.

One of the women reaches up retrieving the goods I seek, hands it to me as a question pops out of her mouth, "what happened to you?" I cock my head to the side, squinting at her with a reply, "are you asking me why I'm using a wheelchair?" Her acknowledgement is "yes." So now I tell her and her partner, I had a car accident, forty years ago, that resulted in an injury to my spine paralyzing my legs and I use a wheelchair for mobility.

They both were visibly disturbed by the news of my paralysis, telling me how sorry they were for me, when I stopped them, in the middle of their sympathy speech, saying, "don't feel sorry for me I have a great life, I have friends, I drive, I travel, I have a job.. "What? You work? In unison, they abruptly interrupted my next and best part of this oration I've giving away for most my forty years of rolling through life encountering brazen and uneducated people such as these women were, ‘ Yes, I'm just like every other person, I have a busy, full life.'

Since 1945 this country has been declaring October National Disability Employment Awareness Month and I'm still meeting people that can't imagine that a person with a disability has a job, works for a living and is independent. I think it's about time for a nationwide, comprehensive, government mandated disability awareness education program in the work place, schools, for the media, the entertainment industry, everywhere in our society. Without this type of awareness education we will, from my perspective, never change the culture of seeing people with disabilities, PWD, through the lens of a medical, (there is something wrong that must be fixed or prayed for) or charity, (PWD need to be taken care because they can't take care of themselves) models and move on to inclusion of PWD, everywhere, including the workplace.

I remember hearing Judith Heumann, the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights for the Obama Administration say, "I was denied my first job as a teacher in New York City because I couldn't walk, but I went to court and was able to get my teaching license. I learned at that time that discrimination against disabled people with all types of disabilities in the area of employment was pervasive." She went on to say that the United States, through the hard work of many people with and without disabilities and government agencies, has become a more inclusive society and employers see the value of diversity in the workplace.

I agree with her, in my forty years of being a PWD, access to opportunity has gotten better and I also believe we can do even better when we all know better. This is where I believe disability awareness education can facilitate and energize the forward progress of inclusion of PWD in all areas of this community of humanity. I love the social media campaigns, they are right-on in the direction of education with the photographs and hash tags #NDEAM and #withoutlimits.

The upcoming three part webinar series by Getting Hired can really support people with and without disabilities. The education that is offered in this webinar can be used to create awareness of best practices for an employee and employer. This program has a Universal Design feel for me.

The National Disability Employment Awareness Month is only part way over, so there's still time for us to get in on the fun of tweeting and posting your picture with the #NDEAM and #withoutlimits. You can check out this website for guides and historical information.

My hope is that the future holds this golden moment, I'm out shopping, I can't reach something, I ask for help, I get what I need, thank my helper and move right on without, what so many of us that live with disabilities have come to know as a necessary and awkward part of our lives, "the teaching moment" as I had with my two ladies. That the time will come when our society will have already been taught that what is commonly called a disability is only, just a life experience that doesn't diminish social and economic opportunities.

Blessings to All, In Joy, Candace

© 2015 Candace Cable | Like Candace on Facebook | Follow Candace on Twitter