“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Great Expectations

I am often in situations where people with intellectual disabilities and those without who are their teachers, their care providers, their family members are together. Sometimes it is a theraputic or educational situation and other times just typical life situations. It also seems, that those with the disability perform, to a certain extent, in accordance with the expectations of those they are with. So...
If they are treated as a child, they act as a child.
If they are treated as an adult, they act like an adult.

If they are treated as if they can't learn anything, they don't learn anything.
If they are treated with the expectation that they will learn, they do learn.

If they are treated as people who are just intellectually disabled, they act as such.
If they are treated as people who think, have opinions and are capable of thinking deeply they do.

I make concerted efforts, when I am instructing people who have intellectual disabilities, to try to stretch them, particularly if I am talking about spiritual things. I am always impressed how they will raise to the level of the discussion. They will often try to take what I am saying and translate it into a direct application to their lives. "So you are saying that I shouldn't listen when somebody tells me to ..." they will say. One gal I know who has down's syndrome, will pause after you ask her a question, and often give profound insights. Too often, however, she is not given the opportunity to do so because the people around her think her pause a lack of understanding, and their limited expectations cause them to be impatient.

I believe I have shared this here before, but I have a friend who has severe intellectual disabilities, lets call him Fred. Fred would try to get my attention by nagging me with a question, the same question over and over again. Finally, one day, he asked me for a dollar. That got me to stop and pay attention to him for a minute. He learned that he could get me to stop by asking me for a dollar. Well many dollars have changed hands over the years, but at some point I stopped and began to have a conversation with him. I expected him to be able to converse with me on a variety of topics. At first our discussions revolved around his original repetitive question and asking for a dollar, but grew to discussion of his desire to marry his teacher, and his brother who lives in Hawaii, and his interest in baseball, and his favorite foods and so forth. When I treated him as a real human being who would communicate with me on a variety of topics, he rose to the occasion. Had I continued in my interactions with him where I basically ignored him, he would have remained something quite less than what he was capable of.

So I have learned to try hard to raise my expectations of people, independent of their level of disability. Too often their low performance is due to what I do as the person who is in control of the social situation. It is the result of mistaken notions of the limitation of the person with disabilities.


Disability Studies MA mentioned in Christianity Today

In an editorial entitled Surprised by disability by Al Hsu Christianity Today magazine makes mention of the new, entirely online, MA degree in Disability Studies at California Baptist University. It is exciting for those of us who have worked to develop this degree to have it noted in Christianity Today.

If you are interested in this online degree program, you can find more information about it at http://calbaptist.edu/disabilitystudies and/or you can email me, Jeff McNair at jmcnair@calbaptist.edu

We are accepting students to the program for January of 2009, just 3 months away, so contact me and we can get you an application!

God bless!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Us becoming like Them

I have had a bit of a revelation in the last few weeks. I finished writing an article that has a great title. It is called, "The indispensable nature of persons with intellectual disabilities to the church." It should be coming out in the next few months in the Journal of Religion, Disability and Health. Anyway, as often happens when you submit an article, it was sent back to me with some questions, and suggestions for changes both of which need to be addressed if the article is to be published.

As I was working through the revisions, an idea hit me. In an integrated setting where people with and without intellectual disabilities are together, you obviously have two different groups in interaction with each other: those with intellectual disabilities and those without intellectual disabilities. Now those without intellectual disabilities have the ability to learn social skills, and to pretty much reflect what might be called nondisabled society. In contrast, those with intellectual disabilities may not understand social skills and therefore do not reflect nondisabled society. So for example, research indicates that people with disabilities loose their jobs most frequently because of minor social skill deficits. But I also note that my friends with ID have a very different perspective on disability. They may not see themselves as disabled, and may not regard others with disabilities like their own or even more severe, as disabled. I find that they typically just see others as people.

I have one friend with ID who says that a person with a disability is someone who can't get along with other people and gets into fights. So when I ask him whether he knows someone who has a disability, even though I know that he knows people who use wheelchairs or walkers and have severe ID to the point of being nonverbal, he comes back to his definition and tries to think of someone who is difficult to get along with.

But getting back to my point, as I am spending time with friends with intellectual disabilty, I find that I have the ability to change in a variety of ways while they don't always have the ability to change. So, in order for there to be social interactions with them, I have to change. Actually (and this was my revelation), I think that I become more like them, I become more like my intellectually disabled friends. Specifically,
    • I don't worry so much about social skills and their are few things someone might do, socially, that would shock or alarm me. I become like them in that way.
    • I begin to see people as people whether or not they have a disability. They are not characterized in my mind as my friends and my disabled friends. I become like them in that way.
    • They are very forgiving of others who are unkind to them. Hopefully I become like them in that way.
    • I will also say, unapologetically, that they are more loving toward others than I often am. Hopefully I become like them in that way.

These and other changes are not forced on me in any kind of willful acts on their part. It just kind of becomes the rules of the game if I am going to be able to interact with them. So they change me/I become more like them. In order for the enviornment to soften to include them, there is a level at which the enviornment becomes like them.

In the words of the title of my article, the indispensable nature is at least partly the positive ways that I become like them as a result of being with them.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How far have we come?

I recently received an article from my mother, a resident of Minnesota, that was entitled State facility improperly handcuffed retarded residents.  The article tells of persons with intellectual disabilities being handcuffed for such offenses as, "touching a pizza box, spitting and going outside without a coat."  The article also relates, "The staff said restraints were the only way to manage the often-difficult residents who are temporarily committed tot he 48 bed facility by the courts."  

This story apparently has come to light because of Roberta Opheim.  The article says "she took the unusual step of publicly chastising the facility to reduce the chances of such abuses from occurring again."  Thanks be to Ms. Opheim.  I am confident she received political heat for her decision.

The article also says, "When family members and guardians complained or demanded that restraints not be used, the staff threatened retaliation by limiting visiting times and withholding information, the report said."  Rick Amado is quoted as saying, the staff members "are not bad people...They can become frustrated, they cannot allow one resident to hurt another."  To me, those two characterizations do not go together.  Staff who threaten retaliation when families and guardians want justice are bad people.

The article goes on to say that "Opheim noted that budget cuts in recent years have sharply reduced the amount of resources for staff training..."  I see the results of limited staff training myself, although not as severe.  For example, a local group home took a bunch of intellectually disabled adults on a walk through their neighborhood in their pajamas.  Why?  Because it was 6pm, the residents were already in their pj's and needed to get out a bit.  It would be too difficult to change them back into street clothing for the walk.  This is the kind of thinking that occurs among people who often work with individuals with disabilities.  I do not mean to equate being handcuffed with being paraded around the community in your pj's but the observation is that both have received poor training.  Should a man be walking around the community by himself in his pj's he might experience repercussions for his behavior.  However, I am supposed to participate if those who are "in charge" of me parade me around.

I would like to say that these types of things do not occur in the United States, but I know they do.  Typically they are hidden which is why Ms. Opheim should be credited for bringing them to light.  Chances her efforts will cause others to examine the practices they are aware of and bring them to light.


Monday, September 22, 2008

A real life metaphor

This past week in church, my pastor, Dr. Gary Inrig, related the story of a man who saved his son who had fallen into a septic tank.  The story might not typically get someone's notice except for the fact that the adult son who fell into the septic tank was a man with down's syndrome and the man who saved his son, sacrificed his own life so that his son could live (see Washington Post story here).  Thomas Vander Woude apparently held his son's head above the sewage water by somehow holding him on his shoulders or in some other way holding him up, while sacrificing his own life in the process.  

My pastor used this story as a beautiful illustration of Christ coming to Earth (diving into a septic tank) in order to save those who were there, and ultimately sacrificing His own life to save ours.  I will allow you to fill in the blanks relative to other aspects of the metaphor.  But I was thinking more about the value this father put on the life of his son with down's syndrome.

At the moment it is reported that 90% of children who are prenatally diagnosed as having down's syndrome are aborted.  Without getting political, that is one reason that Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to give birth to her son with down's syndrome is actually quite remarkable.  By that act, she places herself among the 10% of other women who were in that position and chose life.

But even more interesting, more worthy of consideration is that here is a man who after 20 years with a son with down's syndrome saw his son's life as important enough that he would sacrifice his own life so that his son could live.  It is a very powerful example to people who would make "decisions" about the lives of others, when they know little or nothing about those lives.  I am not just talking about parents, but more those in the medical profession and those in pro-choice organizations both of whom probably have never had a cup of coffee with a person with down's syndrome, or watched a ball game with someone to get to know them as persons.  However, doctors may be quick to advocate for the prevention of their lives through abortion.  If people really want to understand what disability is, they need to get with people with disabilities themselves as well as with people like parents and friends who really know them well.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Teacher interactions with parents of children with disabilities

I recently had the opportunity to do an inservice for a local public school. The school called me to speak to the teachers who were feeling discouraged and beaten up by parents of their students, largely early elementary age, who had disabilities. As I was reflecting on what I would say to the teachers, my mind went to Micah 6:8 one my most favorite verses. The school was not a Christian school, but I told them they invited a Christian college professor to speak to them, and I was going to base my comments on a Bible verse.

"In your interactions with parents," I said, "your standard should be to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly." Let me repeat a bit of that advice here.

As a teacher you need to do justly, which although it might sound easy, is not. I always tell the new teachers that I work with that you need to think about what you are willing to loose your job over. I had dinner with some friends last night, who are also professionals in special education who told me that they know of a local district who literally have a staff person who's main responsibility is to not give parents what they are after in terms of programming for their children. I was speaking to a program specialist, a person who supervises and assists special education teachers, and an old student of mine, who told me that in her district, the have a special program which is state of the art for children with autism. However, you cannot get your child those services unless you threaten to go to "fair hearing" which is kind of like taking the negotiations for a child with disabilities' educational program into the legal system. In these and other cases, school districts are frustrating the doing of justice. You don't need to talk to many parents to find out how difficult it is to get the services you are supposed to get, from the state. You have to fight. As a teacher, you should not be on the side of those who frustrate parents. You should not be only and always on the side of parents. You need to be on the side of justice as best as you can understand it. And yes, there are things worth losing your job over.

As a teacher you should also love mercy. Parents of children with disabilities are "wounded" in similar ways to which persons with disabilities are wounded. See this blog entry for more on wounding. Because people are wounded, they can be sensitive, hostile, aggressive. However, when I approach a situation where I remember that I am the professional in the situation, and I remember that those with whom I am interacting are wounded, and I know what I know about issues of justice described above it should cause mercy to well up in me. I approach people differently when I realize they are in the need of mercy.

Finally, I need to walk humbly. As teacher, as a professional, my problem may be that I think I know more than I actually do. I can be too quick to minimize parent input, or vilify parents, or just do a lot of blaming. But more than just about anything, as a teacher I need to walk humbly. I need to recognize my limitations, recognize the exceeding importance of parents and family in the life of a child with a disaiblity. I need to recognize that I represent the State, and as such a representative, I am not always on the just side of the argument about services. I have sat in on IEP meetings where haughty, self-impressed professionals bully parents. I cannot be one of those people. I need to be humble in my interactions with all people, but in particular as a professional in interactions with parents, children and families.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Typical experiences

In his discussion of the wounding experienced by persons with disabilities, Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger relates that often, particularly people with intellectual disabilities do not have the experiences typical of people in their culture.  So in the US, for example, I have known adults with intellectual disabilities who had never been to a restaurant before.  I actually had the delight of taking a few friends to their first restaurant when I found they had  never been to one.  Being in Southern California, we have found that many people have never been to the beach, or up in the snow when the mountains are white in the Winter.  But recently in our group at church, I have discovered a few other examples.

People enjoy hearing about other people's trips to exotic places.  Most persons with intellectual disabilities don't get to hear about people living or traveling to Africa, for example, because they do not have people who are making such travels in their social networks.  Therefore the simple experience of someone going on a trip, coming home, and then sharing pictures is something that may have never experienced.  

This past week, the women of our group sponsored a wedding shower for another woman who participates in our group.  I wonder how many wedding showers the typical adult with intellectual disabilities participates in in her lifetime?  Kathi told me that it was a delightful time where gifts were carefully selected and presented with pride and anticipation, and received with sincere thanks.  What a wonderful memory for the future bride and all those who participated in her shower.  The men of the group also teased about the shower as a "chick" occasion as men do which is actually a part of the fun of whole experience.

How wonderful to be able to enrich lives of people who through no fault of their own miss out on typical things that are part of the lives of those who do not have an intellectual disability.  


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Softening the environment

For many years, I have thought that a critical factor in the integration of persons with intellectual disabilities into the community is the "softening of the environment" toward those individuals. That is, the environment needs to
  • soften in its social skill demands,
  • be more open to differences in people to some extent not even really seeing disability,
  • needs to be more friendly and more loving,
  • needs to become less indivualistic and more open to interdependence among people.
Well it seems that what we are actually saying when we say that the enviornment needs to be softened, is that the enviornment needs to become more like people with intellectual disabilities who
  • do not make high social skill demands of others,
  • are more open to differences in people to the point of not even seeing disability,
  • tend to be friendly and loving,
  • and perhaps due to their disability are less independent and more dependent or interdependent.
In considering relationships with persons, particularly adults with intellectual disabilities, because they are often unable to change, to improve in areas such as social skills, those without intellectual disabilities have the option to soften, ultimately accepting others in spite of their "shortcomings" or rejecting them. The accepting, the softening, it seems to me, is actually me becoming more like them. As I grow as a human being, I reflect many of the characteristics I observe in people with intellectual disabilities who are around me. I become more like them as I begin to understand that we are really all the same. My resistance to change, my reisistance to softening illustrates the degree to which I do not believe people are all the same. My embracing and insistance on social standards (I am not talking about standards in terms of evil) when people are unable to meet those standards (think social skills, for example) hardens me and makes me brittle such that I can never really see others with intellectual disabilities as the same as me.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Compartmentalizing disability

I am a person who became interested in persons with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities because of the way they drew me in, accepted and loved me when I was a college freshman.  As a result of that group of adults back in 1974 with whom I just played basketball, or soccer or whatever else they wanted to do when we met on Friday nights, I have now spent over 30 years working to educate people with similar disabilities, working to educate those who educate them, and working to see they are full members of the community including the local Christian church.  I have no family members who are disabled so that my involvement with people with disabilities has been a choice on my part.  In contrast, many people that I know have had the life experience of disability thrust upon them by virtue of having a disability themselves or being the family member of a person with a disability.

But even in the best of situations, because my involvement is a choice, it can result in a kind of compartmentalizing of disability.  I have the luxury of compartmentalizing my life, such that I am able to include or not include with people with disabilities in my life.  In that regard, I am probably a part of the majority of people.  I started to think about that idea of compartmentalizing disability.

For myself, I visit friends at a group home once per week. I involve myself with people at church every Sunday and at times when there are other events (which is pretty often). But it occurred to me that my "disabled life" occurs largely on Wednesdays and Sundays for about 7 hours a week. Often I talk with friends on the phone and other times we meet together just as friends do. With effort I get together for coffee once a month with friends, sometimes initiated by me and sometimes initiated by my friends, and I try to help people with problems as they arise. I understand that many people, particularly parents and people with disabilities themselves cannot compartmentalize which is a huge difference between them and myself.  I can become unavailable if I want to for some reason, they must always be available.  Groups attempt to provide respite care for parents such that they can explore other aspects of their lives, but even when they are benefiting from respite, they are still "on call" such that they are only physically absent for a brief while.

The question I have for myself is, how can I reduce the compartmentalization of my life in relation to people with disability?  I have tried to make myself available in the midst of a busy work schedule and phone calls help to blend aspects of my life together.  But I struggle with how, short of adopting a person with a disability, or having some with disability living in my home, I can live a more integrated life.  I am not foolish enough to think or imply that life with disability is in any way easy, although I have learned that people do become accustomed, become used to their lives as they are lived.

I also wonder, at times, whether life with people who are intellectually disabled, when it is a choice because they are disabled, is little more than philanthropy? That implies a one way street in the definition of inclusiveness. I think that perception is the reason why many efforts to facilitate inclusive programs fail.  Those without disability may see it as all giving on their part.  They don't see the involvement as mutually beneficial.  Until they do, efforts at inclusion are destined to live or die on the basis of philanthropy.

For myself, my efforts to break down the compartmentalization of disability in my own life are in part based upon philanthropy, I must admit, however I also have other motivations.  I meet with my friends because they are truly my friends.  I laugh with all of my friends, I am interested in what they are doing, I enjoy being with them, they enjoy being with me.  When I am away from all of my friends I think about them.  When I am away from friends I worry about issues I know they are facing in their lives.  I try to defend them when I perceive them being threatened.  I guess I recognize the impact all of my friends have made on my life and that is the reason why I don't want to compartmentalize them, but want our lives to blend.  I freely commit myself to relationship like I do to any relationship and that commitment makes demands on me which I also freely embrace.  At least that is what I hope to attain.  It results in a blurring of the lines between characteristics of people.  I see this blurring through the eyes of my intellectually disabled friends in the way they see people with and without disabilities and it is a very refreshing characteristic that I hope to learn.


The moral "where with all"

While in Cape Town at the IASSID conference, I attended two presentation relative to personhood of people with disabilities, in particular intellectual disabilities. One presenter quoted Dr. Hans Reinders using the phrase "precarious personhood." It is a good phrase, pointing to the tenuous nature of the lives of many people around the world.

A second presenter used the phrase "traditional moral philosophy" as kind of the point of appeal for personhood, implying that traditional moral philosophy will bring us to the awakening we need to love our brothers and sisters in spite of their perceived, negative, personal characteristics. I felt like she was Peter Pan asking me to throw myself out the window because she says I can fly. I raised the question, "If just about everywhere in the world, pretty much forever, people have been excluded on the basis of their disability, to what traditional moral philosophy are you appealing? Our traditions have failed us at every turn. Our secular and at times religiously informed moral values have been traditionally unhelpful and problematic. To imply otherwise is to evidence an intellectual disability. You are therefore appealing to a morality that is basically not present." Strangely, she agreed.

Such morality is not present in the majority of parents until a child with a disability is born to them and even then not always so. It is not present in schools where special education teachers force inclusion on children but do not live lives inclusive of their own peers with intellectual disabilities. Our only hope is to appeal to settings where the morality we desire is present although perhaps dormant in many situations like the Christian church. We have the opportunity to lead the way in the development of values that will value people with disabilities. In many ways it is not natural for societies to have such values...they must be taught. Or better yet, they must be modeled by us for society because we as Christians can at times talk a good game, but can't back it up. At least not yet, and for sure not universally. Pockets of brilliance do not an argument make, however, but as the pockets grow, more will want to reflect what they see.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

IASSID Religion and Spirituality Division

One of the reasons for my trip to South Africa, was to assist in the development of a special interest group of IASSID (International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disability).  Led by Bill Gaventa, about 20 of us met to discuss the possibility of this group.  We had people from Tanzania, South Africa, United States, Belgium, United Kingdom, Finland, Australia and the Netherlands (perhaps more!).  It was a great first meeting where we had the opportunity to meet and hear about what others around the world were involved in relative to spirituality. 

There was also a religion and spirituality presentation track where 6 papers were delivered, 4 from the US, one from Netherlands and one from UK.  I presented a paper on Christian social constructions of disability, and one on The indispensable nature of persons with intellectual disabilities to the church.  The sessions were well attended and the presentations well received with lively questions and answers afterwards.  It was interesting to hear reactions to the levels of church attendance in the US.  I reported the Princeton Religion Research figures of about 40% attending church in the last seven days, and research about adults with intellectual disabilities attending at about a 50% rate which comes from several research studies.  People were very surprised at the attendance figures, particularly people from Australia and the UK where church attendance is apparently very low.

Unfortunately, there were not a lot of people who represented religious perspectives other than Christianity, so we didn't have the benefit of hearing from those folks.  Hopefully that will change in the future.

Should you be interested in becoming a part of this new international group, go to the IASSID website, register as a member, and then email me and I can tell you how to proceed.



At the IASSID conference in South Africa, I attended a session by a researcher from the UK.  The woman was doing research on attitudes towards children with disabilities, and particularly toward their mothers in some of the more remote, tribal areas of Africa.  Among the tribe she studied, there is the perception that a woman has a child with a disability because of something wrong she has done.  She has "sinned" in some way and the result is that the spirits have given her a child with a disability as a punishment.  The researchers, recognizing how important the relationship is between mother and child in the development of children with intellectual disabilities, wondered whether there could be a way within the tribal system that the perceived "sin" of the mother could be "forgiven" such that a better relationship might be fostered with the child and with the community for that matter.  They facilitated mothers going through rituals with the tribal leaders/healers that cost lots of money and took many months, but in the end, the mothers were "forgiven" of their supposed "sin" that led to the birth of their child.  This ritual resulted, according to the researchers, in better relationships between mother and child as the mother no longer felt the disdain of the society (she was "forgiven") nor her own guilt for something that she had been taught that she must have done (but probably had little idea of what it might be).

Lest you laugh off this account as you look at it through your western eyes, women, families in the West, in the US for goodness sakes often face the same kinds of perceptions as was evidenced in tribal Africa.  Research indicates that families, in particular mothers, will question God at the birth of a child with a disability wondering "What did I do to deserve this?"  The fact that this question is even typically in their mindset illustrates that it is a part of how our society thinks about disability and the birth of a child with a disability.  Somehow this social construction seems somewhat universal.  Unfortunately, it has at times also been reinforced by various societal groups, including to a greater or lesser extant, Christian churches.  Because this notion is such a basic part of our psyche, and because the Bible does not support such a notion, we as Christians must go out of our way to fight such an understanding of disability.  To paraphrase a colleague of mine, Dr. Jeff Mooney,  if we really had a good understanding of what sin is, and sin truly was the cause of disability, then all of our children should be disabled.

There is a ministry of mercy that the church and Christians can play in the lives of families, particularly mothers and fathers of children with disabilities.  That is, that as the opportunity arises we refute claims about a parent's sin being the reason for a disability.  We don't provide some silly, syrupy notion of God looking down and choosing families to have a disabled child, however, we do support that disability is in some way a part of God's plan for human beings.  The child with down's syndrome is not someone who somehow escaped God's notice and was born with an extra chromosome.  In many ways, such children are part of God's plan for people. 

Now obviously there are things a parent, particularly a mother can do, like drink excessively during pregnancy, that can lead to a disability in their child.  What I am talking about, however, is the birth of a child with down's syndrome, for example and other similar disabilities.  Not that we should criticize the mother of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, but rather that the healing process in that mother's life is very different from that of a mother of a child with down's syndrome, for example.

Because disability is or has taken on such a negative perception, people assume there must be some form of evil behind it, and wrongly and unfortunately, the evil is usually placed a the feet of the mother.  It is interesting to note, for example, that when autism was first described, its cause was said to be due to "icebox parents."  Once again, it was believed that it was unloving parents who had children with autism.  Nothing could be further from the truth, however, because of the notion once again of sin linked with disability, even 1940's researchers would make the connection between the two.

Another of the researchers at the IASSID conference was from Iceland.  Interestingly, she noted that in Iceland the divorce rate among parents of children with disabilities was LESS than that of couples who did not have a disabled child.  This is quite a statistic.  With supports, parents can see the birth of a child with a disability in a totally different manner.  Supports can be provided that may actually make the family unit stronger rather than weaker.  I suspect a lot of this strength is related to the manner in which disability is perceived, or people are taught over time to perceive the birth of a child with a disability.

That is my prayer for the Christian church.  I pray for the day that parents of children with disabilities are drawn to the church because of the support they will feel there.  That the response to the birth of a child with a disability is not "I must have sinned" but "I need to go to a church where they will love, understand and support me."  That people, Christian or otherwise, would intrinsically link disability and church.  If we were really supporting people with disabilities and their families, the community witness would be irrefutable.  It would also go a long way in refuting the socially constructed link between disability and sin.


Friday, September 05, 2008

South Africa: So what do you do?

After visiting Cape Town, South Africa, I have been trying to integrate and understand many of the experiences I had there. I think the time could be reflected upon in reference to 1) the incredible natural beauty of the place, 2) the wonderful IASSID conference at which I met dozens of people working for persons with intellectual disabilities from many countries, and made some new friends, I think, and 3) my eye opening interactions with average people, as I spent many hours just walking around the streets of Cape Town, talking to merchants, security guards, cab drivers and the many people who were begging on the street. It was through these interactions that I got to know many black Africans living there. To a person, they were friendly and a delight to talk to. I found I could get them to open up a bit (although it didn't take much effort to get them to open up) if I would ask them where they were originally from, as Cape Town seems to be a kind of magnet for people from all over Africa who are looking for a better life. As a backdrop, these experiences were then also impacted by the reading each evening of Nelson Mandella's Long Walk to Freedom, which is basically his autobiography, and an insight into apartheid in 20th century South Africa and its ultimate reform. It was interesting to read that entire book while I was in South Africa. I want to comment on it in a separate entry.

My time with average, South African citizens caused me to write a poem that I called, So what do you do? that I provide at this link. Each of the stanzas relates to specific or general incidents I had, interacting with specific people. I am not a poet, but it has been helpful to write it as a way of trying to comprehend and make sense of the experiences you will see related in the poem. I will tell you that the trip kinda "rocked my world" a bit.

More on disability issues forthcoming.