Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Semester Update


I had a good semester this spring.

Specifically, in February I joined Students Organized for Disability Awareness (SODA) at my local community college. Technically, I'm not currently a student, but I took a course there a year and a half ago so they just said I couldn't be an officer.

I'm not the only Aspie in SODA. There are at least two other Aspies there - one of whom is an officer despite also dealing with several other issues - and also a brother of an Aspie.

For that matter, we have people with a wide variety of disabilities: among other things (legal) blindness, systemic lupus (which makes it very difficult to walk around, let alone upstairs, more than a short distance at a time and also causes short-term memory loss, among other issues), epilepsy, cerebral palsy and of course certain conditions requiring a wheelchair.

I learned quite a bit about accommodating people. For example, I took two of our wheelchair-bound members to an event on campus; I was humbled to see how well they had to know the campus in general and the locations of the flat areas, ramps, accessible entrances and elevators in particular. And I thought I knew the campus pretty well.

I navigate most areas physically with the same ease and confidence with which NTs navigate most social situations. Note to self: Don't be so quick to assume that NTs understand Aspies' distinctive needs.

Meanwhile, for our Community Health Fair earlier this spring I devised, and then co-wrote with several other members, a two-person skit on communication differences. The idea is to show how easily any two people (we do this skit with any two passersby who wish to participate) can misunderstand each other when one has extra "scripts" that the other doesn't (like an NT and Aspie respectively, of course).

For Disability Awareness Day, we had Jesse Billauer (a quadriplegic surfer) speak on campus. Along with a couple of other people, I helped to persuade - including by speaking before - the student government to allocate $1,100 for Billauer's appearance.

I also did a few other things, including helping put up flyers for Billauer's event and sitting at a table to do things like help promote a Multiple Sclerosis benefit and represent SODA as a whole.

I wish I'd been more consistently active in things like this when I was in college full-time.

A few things for students and activists to keep in mind:

1. Reliability really helps. To get things done, especially the way you think they should be done, you need people to trust you. That's a lot easier to achieve after people see you show up when you say you will.

And if you can't - as I found myself unable to help at a community service expo due to my new job - let the appropriate people know right away. The sooner they know, the sooner they can change their plans. An explanation wouldn't hurt, either, just so they know that you do care about what they're doing and are sorry you won't be able to help after all.

2. Grunt work is for everyone - including you. Anyone can come to meetings and parties, especially when food is served. Pretty much anyone can hold opinions and then spout off. You show you're a true believer in the cause by sacrificing a bit of your time and effort doing sometimes tedious and boring but necessary things like posting flyers, contacting others who may be able to help promote events, sitting at tables and talking to passersby, meeting with people to work on projects and the like.

3. That includes getting along well with others. You can't accomplish much by yourself. You need other people's ideas, labor and pointers to resources, among other things. Aspies may find it more difficult to get along with others, just as people with spina bifida may be confined to wheelchairs and find it more difficult to get around. That means that we need to do things like recognize our own limitations, disclose our situations where practicable and meet others halfway, just as people confined to wheelchairs need to go the extra distance and locate and use the disabled-friendly parts of campus.

What do you think?

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