Tomorrow, I have the responsibility to listen, learn, and react to the voices of nearly 200 people with intellectual disabilities and their allies and mentors. I will ask them to share their perspectives, their histories, their vision, and their opinions.That is a lot to ask of people, and tonight, I work to prepare myself for this. I will try to be a good servant to their voices and their experiences. I will faithfully record their voices, words, and intent as best I can. I will share those voices to those with power to make change and move towards the imagined future they will speak of.
The challenges are significant as a person with automatic status amongst many Indian people by default of the geography I happened to be born into. This is the kicker for me – most anything I saw or do seems to commands respect and attention. My ethnicity as American of European descent brings automatic legitimacy, or at least interest, to whatever my message is, and that may not be fair or helpful much of the time, but it is the reality. It is also a reminder about the realities of having a disability in India, or just about anywhere in the world. It’s not fair that people think they know everything about you just because they think they know one or two facts about your birth, or your condition. But it also just is. The fact of having a disability – particularly an intellectual or developmental disability, makes people think they know everything about you. Not right, not fair, just is.
Our work to change the future depends on us recognizing the injustice, not of disability itself, but of the judgement and stereotype that is so entrenched amongst most people. Tomorrow, it is my commitment to keep myself as small as possible, so the people I am listening to get to be big. That is only fair and only right.