I learned long ago that having an obvious disability and needing assistance with simple tasks, such as hopping into one of those big conventional vans (I always need a hand to help balance me) captures people’s attention. I believe for as long as I live I will always forget that most people don’t expect to encounter people with disabilities. I understand this. The majority of people in the world do not have disabilities. It’s our human nature to expect our encounters with people will reflect the majority of the world’s population. This is one of the many beauties of living with a disability. People may not expect me to show up and when this happens, the ripples of educating people about disabilities and opening hearts can go far and wide.
I have been very blessed through my life to have most people I encounter – even strangers – to have open minds and warm hearts. Maybe it’s a bit of my “go with the flow” personality, but I find most people quickly acclimate to my speech and muscle movements. In no time, most people are treating me as they would anyone else. Such was the case recently while I was on vacation and visiting the beautiful island of Dominica in the Caribbean. My husband and I were on a cruise and Dominica was one of our ports. He wanted to go on a hiking excursion and found a Caribbean cooking excursion for me, knowing that cooking is one of my loves.
Well like most excursions, the wonderful driver from Jungle Trekking Adventures and Safaris Inc (JTAS) (www.experiencescaribbean.com) came to pick us – my fellow Caribbean cookers and I – up in one of those big conventional vans. He quickly figured out it would probably be easiest for me to ride in the front passenger seat with him. He drove us to the beautiful home of our guests and the owners of JTAS, Daria and Michael Eugene, high on a hilltop and surrounded by beautiful tropical trees. We were escorted to their beautiful open air kitchen that any cook would gladly hand over their prize possession to have in their home.
Usually when I meet people, I don’t state the obvious. “Hi. I’m Kathy and I have Cerebral Palsy (as if I’m in a AA meeting),” is just not my style. To be honest, most of the time I am too busy enjoying whatever activity I am in the midst of to remember that people might be helped by a brief orientation of what CP is and how it affects me. I trust that by going about life and being open to others, I am hopefully giving people the message they can be curious and ask me questions. While Daria and her assistants did not ask me any direct questions about my disability, they were quick to offer me a chair when they noticed me becoming uncomfortable with standing for a while. They also assigned me to one of the easier cooking tasks – cooking rice. Although I consider myself quite an experienced cook, some tasks we did that afternoon, like breading plantations, are challenging to my fine motor skills. They also carried my plate full of our completed meal to the table for me, given there was a step I needed to negotiate on the way. They were very gracious and welcoming to me. It was a lovely afternoon. We left Daria our email addresses and she promised to send all the recipes that created our luscious feast.
When I returned home, the recipes were waiting in my inbox. Since I was still away when they emailed the recipes, they received my “out of office” reply with my website address attached. It was a couple weeks after that when I received a second email from Daria and Michael. Here’s what it said:
We note your involvement as a resource for the Abilities Consulting and are quite interested in learning of your thoughts about our excursion, as regards its appropriateness to serving and meeting the needs of physically challenged cruisers. We are quite excited about getting first hand insight into this segment of the market – the opportunities, trends, cruise excursion interests, as well as the means to being able to have access to this segment of the market.
People wanting to learn more about how to include people with disabilities inspires me to no end. I wrote Daria and Michael back, gave them a few suggestions, and affirmed their warm hearts were their most significant asset for including all people. Receiving their email made me realize – once again – that by people with disabilities just being out in the world, just living our lives, just taking wonderful vacations and meeting new people – can produce ripples of increased knowledge and warm hearts far from our corner of the world. Such is the beauty and gift of living with a disability.