The Power of Presence

For my blog today, I will celebrate father’s day by discussing something that my father recently told me. For a bit of context, I was doing a speaking engagement on the power of disability, which he happened to be at. When I asked him afterwards what he thought of what I said, he pointed out something that I did not include…probably because I did not have the benefit of the external perspective that he and Mum had enjoyed as I grew up. He told me that every year, every teacher whose class I was in would tell my parents how much my disability had changed the ‘feel’ of the class for the better. The same held true, he said, for every Cub Scout pack, community group or after school activity;  it was mentioned every time.

That got me thinking about this idea of the presence of disability and how it can change an entire group. As I’ve grown up, I’ve had more than one friend say to me “I’ve never thought about accessibility until we started hanging out” or something similar. When my family moved to the Middle East and the British secondary school that I attended was forced to put ramps in, the entire student body benefited. In other words, the very fact that me and my disability has been there has changed minds and made a positive impact.

It was never me and my personality that made the real difference, at least I don’t think so. I was just another kid; outgoing but sometimes too smart for my own good. But it was my physical difference that seemed, according to my Dad, spread positive ripples throughout every class or other group. The dynamic was made that much richer for not only my peers but my teachers as well. What this shows us that when difference is embraced, even if only through acceptance of its presence, things can change.

Ultimately, I do not think this should be surprising. And yet, we spend so much time trying to make differences ‘fit in’ that we ignore the amazing and widespread positive impact that disability can have. I never went into a new school year intending to change perspectives, my disability did it for me. It was never a conscious choice on my part or the part of my teachers, but instead a natural and sometimes subtle shift in the culture of the space. And that, in my view, is the ultimate power of being disability positive. Thanks for reminding me, Dad!