I spent last week in Laramie with a bunch of the clients where I work, attending MEGA Conference. (I don't know what MEGA stands for, but it's always capitalized, so there you go.) In case you were wondering, the drive to Laramie is awful and ugly, and the city itself is a shit hole. (When I told my parents that description, they were not amused!) I do not like Laramie and I couldn't wait to get home. The conference was really good, though. They do it every year and it's for people with disabilities, as well as their caregivers and family members.
There's a keynote speaker every morning and then breakout sessions. The keynote speaker this year was actually the same guy on both days, but he talked about different topics. Anyway, this guy was awesome (and super hot!). His name is Kevin Connolly and he was born without legs. If you've never heard of him, you can check out his website here, his photography work here, and his YouTube videos here.
I went with the clients to their sessions, so we learned about fire safety, voting (which was good, since sadly I have never voted), how words can hurt, and some other ones I can't remember off the top of my head. My favorite, other than the keynote speaker, was the session on how words can hurt. They had several people with disabilities get up and talk about bullying and how people have treated them in the past. They also then talked about the support that they have received from people around them and how little things can make a difference. It was really touching.
The last night of the conference we went to a banquet and dance. I wanted to avoid the dance because I have an insane fear of public dancing, but I ended up kind of participating. You see, one of the clients has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. It took a while for her to want to get out on the dance floor, but when they finally played some music she liked, she asked me to take her out there. I helped her dance for about an hour and a half and it was amazing. Her favorite person in the whole world is Martina McBride, and when they played "Independence Day", this girl danced her heart out (meaning she moved her arms around 'cause that's pretty much all she can do), and sang every word. The look on her face was one of pure happiness. I will be the first to admit that it made me cry a little. We tend to think of these people as being handicapped and forget that they're people first. It was really awesome to see all of them out there dancing, having a great time, and not worrying for even a second about how they look or if they're doing it "right". Seriously-it was awesome!
So, all in all, I had a great time, despite the conference being in Laramie. It was really eye-opening and a little (actually a lot) humbling to be around so many people with disabilities. During these past couple of months I've learned to see the person first, and not their disability. In the past, if I have ever encountered someone with a disability, I didn't know how to act, so I avoided them. Now I think I would feel comfortable being my normal, friendly self (hahaha!) and interacting with them. I think about the number of people I've met that have been rude or snobby or whatever, compared with the number of people with disabilities that I've met that have been rude (a big, fat zero!) and I wonder who really has the disability. Huh . . . that was really profound! Hopefully you didn't skip this blog post because it was long, 'cause that means you totally missed out on that little nugget of wisdom!