Public Speaking “Adventures”

I was honored to be asked to speak at San Diego Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall Rally, which launches our city’s Pride celebrations. My mission was to come up with something true about both the Bi+ community and people with disabilities, distilled down into three minutes. For anyone curious, that’s less than 400 words. I found it incredibly difficult to accomplish this and in rising to the challenge, I learned useful things about my speech writing and public speaking process. (I’ll post the speech text in a subsequent post.)

While waiting to speak, the MC of the event — a member of San Diego Pride’s Board of Directors — invaded my personal space, touched me without my permission and made it clear he is bisexual. It is my hope that the last fact was uttered to find common ground with me, not as a sexual overture. The visuals of the entire event has been preserved for posterity.

Before you watch it, I should convey a few facts. Prior to speaking, I was warned the stage had a variety of obstacles and the back had no railing. I also suspected I could be seen from the audience as I waited for my turn to speak. Finally, as a Pride volunteer, the person invading my personal space was my ultimate boss.

You will find me at the back right of the stage, wearing a blue dress and accompanied by a black lab of incredible cuteness.

AS you may have noticed, the MC also “assisted” me to the podium. This was not based on any request of mine. In fact, it was not in keeping with the arrangements I’d made with San Diego Pride’s amazing staff.

So, to summarize, I was touched by someone without my permission and helped against my express wishes. Believe it or not, it took me a week to realize what happened was not acceptable. A week. (I’ll explain why in another post.)

Once it dawned on me that nobody should be treated in that manner, I brought it to the board’s attention. The person who responded said the board clearly needed more disability awareness training. When I pushed back, arguing no person should have this happen to them, disability or not, I received no response. Then life got a bit nuts with other things. (I’ll post about that later. I’m up to three now.)

I did not attempt to push the issue until September when Pride’s board did something else I found questionable. At a public meeting, I spoke about my experience in the vaguest of terms, allowing the offender to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, later in the meeting, when someone else referred to my accusation, Jaime Carrillo decided to announce, “I did it. It was me!” When someone suggested Mr. Carrillo apologize, I clearly said I did not want one. I just wanted him to stay away from me.

A month later, I attended another public board meeting and learned one of the board’s Co-Chairs had stated my situation had been resolved to my satisfaction. Having never even spoken to this person about what “resolving to my satisfaction would be, I objected.

At this same meeting, Mr. Carrillo managed to not honor my request to stay away from me. I grant you he was in a difficult position since the only path out of the room went directly by me. Instead of asking someone else to run his errand or verbally letting me know he was coming past, he simply walked by me, unfortunately tripping on my guide dog, which caused me to know he was very near me.

A week later, a story was published in the San Diego LGBT Weekly about what happened to me. It can be found at:


The same day the story was released, I was contacted by the board for a meeting to, no kidding, “discuss the safety and well-being of everyone.” I suggested a more specific agenda related to what had happened to me and they agreed to the meeting. One can only assume they have agreed to the items I listed.

Stay tuned for whatever happens next and I owe you all some follow-up posts.



Pride with a Side of Alienation

Last July, I attended a Pride rally which flooded me with a wonderful sense of community, while simultaneously left me feeling alienated. When it comes to things like rallies, I often experience this same mix. Attending to enjoy the sense of community and common purpose, I tried to soak up the vibe only to ingest a nice dose of “But You Don’t Count” along the way.

I know the event was a rally about LGBT pride, focusing on issues that impact the non-heterosexual population and meant to highlight our bonds of community and common purpose. If everyone had stuck to LGBT issues exclusively, I might have not felt like “other.” However, from issues of racial equality to immigration, border security to employment rights, many speakers addressed other “liberal” causes. Lists of marginalized groups who we should stand with in their fight for equality were mentioned. Not once did disability pass the lips of any speaker. Not once.

As I sat in the “ASL” seats – because apparently only Deaf people need accessible seating – I listened to one man talk about LGBT youth. He rattled off one statistic about how many LGBT young people report hearing negative messages about their identity from the mouths of public officials. Suddenly, it dawned upon me. We think of negative messages as damaging. How harmful, though, is that which is left out entirely?

When George Takei asked us all to stand, face the flag and recite The Pledge of Allegiance with him, I had no idea where to look. As Norma Chavez-Peterson of the American Civil Liberties Union asked for us to join in the fight to help all oppressed people, those with disabilities were left off her list. A universal message of love and social justice permeated each speech I heard, yet not one person managed to identify people with disabilities as one class of individuals needing support in their fight for equality.

What message does that absence send? To me, it says that I am not thought of when issues of social justice are considered. My marginalized group is not one deserving of the same help and solidarity. I don’t matter enough to be included.

The ways people with disabilities are divergent from other marginalized groups is often the reason given for why we are not included in the list of social justice causes. We need special things that cost money, we are unable to do stuff and you can point to some substantive difference engendering more negativity than skin color or gender preference. Our difference is not viewed as diversity, making us separate from other social justice causes. And, as we all know from school integration, separate is inherently unequal.

So, as I tried to connect with my LGBT community, I had to stop thinking about my identity as a person with a disability. I could either be a member of the group being celebrated or a member of a group not thought worthy of mentioning. Very healthy for my self-esteem.

At least there is an honesty in all this. Should someone have thought to include people with disabilities, it probably would have been in word but not deed. So, for the lack of hypocrisy, I am grateful.


Pop quiz time everyone. Sharpen those pencils – or maybe in this day and age it’s create a new note on your phone – and get ready to answer a few simple questions.
1. If you needed a ride home from the emergency room, who would you call?
2. You need to move a piece of furniture that’s too heavy for you alone. Who can you ask?
3. It’s Thanksgiving and you aren’t cooking for anyone. Who will include you in their celebration?
4. You are sick with the MartianDeathFlu. Who will offer to come over and make you something to eat?
5. Who will go out of their way to come give you a hug on a bad day?
Now, on your list, please remove anyone in your family or that you are dating. Take off coworkers as well. Who does that leave you with?
One of the consistent problems plaguing my life is a lack of someone to help and support me. Whether the pragmatic or the more intangible of emotional support, I seem to routinely have no answers to the above questions.
For example, last time I needed to move my couch, I had to open the sofa bed up, pull out the mattress, put the frame back together, move the couch and then reassemble everything. Yes, it worked. No, it wasn’t any fun at all. I suspect the dog was plotting how to have me assessed for insanity.
Why, though, did I ask you to remove family, significant others and coworkers from your answers?
Many people with disabilities have complicated, difficult relationships with their families and are not close in the way necessary to receive ongoing support. While they might need the love and support relatives can give, the mere fact of dependency frames the entire situation in parent-child terms for that is the model we all know – the person needing care is the child and the person offering is the parent. Even when it comes to elderly family members, the relationship between those individuals and their children is often discussed in terms of the parent “becoming” the child. We don’t have a language or paradigm that allows for needing another family member in an ongoing, dependency based way that does not reflect an adult child relationship. and who wants to be a grown up having to accept the limitations of childhood in order to get their needs met?
People with disabilities are often more socially isolated than their TAB counterparts, find dating to be more challenging and more frequently are single as opposed to part of a romantic relationship. This means we are less likely to have significant others or spouses to lend a helping hand.
With the unemployment rate of people with disabilities at something between 60 and 75%, coworkers are often not a part of our personal landscape either.
This leaves us with our friends to turn to in times of need. In our twenties and early thirties, when many people live more care-free lives, reliance upon friends works great. They need you. You need them. Everyone gets their needs met. It’s not perfect, but things tend to work out most of the time.
Then TABs begin to pair off, acquire mortgages and kids and car payments and friends become the parents of your kid’s friends, people you share a meal or glass of wine with and those you keep tabs on via Facebook. Meanwhile people with disabilities have often not shifted to these life “milestones” and still need the friendships that sustained us in our twenties. We haven’t been able to replace those relationships with others and this creates a big void that often becomes evident logistically yet probably impacts the individual most on an emotional level. After all, you can go through an insane process to move your ridiculously heavy couch, but who will come give you that hug?


It all began when a person in a wheelchair boarded my bus and the driver made the person with the cart move to a seat where the cart would obstruct the aisle. I was not asked to move, but after the bus got underway again, I turned to the cart’s owner and suggested I relocate so she could have a seat where the cart would fit. In the process, I bumped my head.

……because I tried to help.

Next stop my psychiatrist’s office. Typically, his patients flip a switch to indicate their arrival. I cannot do this since there are no accessible labels and I cannot seem to retain the switch location in my head. It has never been an issue in the two years I’ve been seeing him — he’s always come out into the waiting room to retrieve me. This time around, when I had waited ten minutes past my allotted time and could hear him speaking back in his office, I called leaving a message on his voicemail indicating my presence. Another patient eventually arrived, flipped the switch and my doctor materialized, seeming surprised at my presence.

When I said, “Um, I don’t know which switch to flip and this has never been a problem before,” his reply blew my mind. “I just thought you weren’t coming. I never thought about the switch.”

……because I’m so unreliable.

Next was the man by the elevator. He clearly wanted to be helpful, did not know how and used hovering as a means to deal with his internal conflict. He kept telling me things I already knew or was working on figuring out and then continued WATCHING me.

He did alert me to the goo stuck to Camille’s leg, becoming flustered when his phone rang while he was trying to pull it off. I waved him away, determined removal by pulling wasn’t going to work and took off. While waiting for the bus, I used the handy scissors on my pocket knife to remove the goo-matted fur from Camille’s leg.

……because boy scouts have nothing on me.

Once again on the bus, I was sharing a three-person seat with a man, who moved when an elderly woman joined us. The woman made loud, critical declarations about his behavior and I think I offered something like, “Maybe he thought three people and a dog was too much on one seat and decided to give us some space.”

Then the woman began to tell me about her blind neighbor. This *never* turns out well. Ever. Her neighbor was “so amazing” for doing everything on her own, even shopping. She could cook, too. It was all just so amazing that she thought the woman couldn’t possibly be blind and had an argument with another neighbor about it. I suggested maybe she could change her definition of what a blind person could do.

I was then told about how this blind woman assembled her nephew’s birthday present on her own, using screwdrivers and everything. “Amazing” was repeated a few more times. I said I liked to assemble furniture.

The topic shifted to her evening’s attendance at a baseball game. She has back trouble and the stairs are really steep. I commented that it sucked that ball parks weren’t accessible to everyone.

She thought it was just wonderful that strangers would reach out and offer their arm so she could descend the stairs. I repeated my comment about lack of accessibility. She repeated that people were just so wonderful.

……because “wonderful” and “amazing” hadn’t been said enough.

Off the bus and walking home, I was crossing a street when not one, not two, not three but FOUR skateboarders whizzed past me while I was in the middle of the street, startling Cam so much she actually moved sideways and stopped in her tracks..

……because the joy of boarding trumps the safety of others.

Upon arriving home, I yelled “ARGH!” at the top of my lungs and then did it a few more times. Camille went and had a drink of water. About when I stopped the yelling, she walked over and vomited up… everything at my feet.

……because a comedic author is clearly crafting the story of my life.


One of my long-time readers sometimes comes across comics with a disability theme.  He then types up a description for me.  As soon as I read this one, I knew it had to immediately go  up here.  among other things, it is an awesome example of “You may think I’m drowning, but this is the way I swim.”

            The artist is Fábio Coala and I think more of his work can be found at

            The actual comic is at

                The description is as follows:

               In the first panel, a boy with brownish skin and spiky brown hair under a green ball cap is holding a large cardboard box with air holes.  He asks “What is it mom?”  From off panel a voice says: “Open it!”

               In the second panel, the box is open.  A yellow puppy is emerging.  It’s right front leg is missing.  From off panel the boy says “A puppy!”

               In the third panel the boy is holding the puppy looking dismayed.  He says: “Wait… What kind of a puppy doesn’t have a leg?!”  The puppy is gleefully wagging it’s tail.

               In the fourth panel the boy is storming off with a tear in his eye.  He shouts “What’s the point of a sick dog?  This sucks!  I don’t want no puppy.  I don’t want anything.  I hate you!”  The puppy looks at him confused.  There’s a pink ball next to it.

               In the fifth panel, the puppy looks at the ball and wags his tail.

               In the sixth panel, the puppy takes the ball in its mouth.

               In the seventh panel, the puppy is running with the ball in its mouth.

               In the eighth panel, the puppy falls over with a “pof!”.  The ball slips out.

               In the ninth panel, the puppy has retrieved the ball and is running again.

               In the tenth panel, the puppy approaches the boy who’s playing a video game.

               In the eleventh panel, the puppy is looking at the boy while holding the ball and wagging its tail.  The boy turns and says “You’re not like the other dogs…  You can’t play.  You’re only there for people to feel sorry for you.  Don’t pretend you’re happy.”

               In the twelfth panel, the boy takes the ball and says “Gimmie that.  Now catch… and get out of here.”  The puppy looks elated.

               In the thirteenth panel he throws the ball.

               In the fourteenth panel the puppy is running.

               In the fifteenth it falls over again with another “Pof”.

               In the sixteenth, the boy says sadly, tears in his eyes, “See, you’re not like the others.”

               In the seventeenth, the dog regains its footing.

               In the eighteenth, it lunges and latches onto the ball, happy again.

               In the nineteenth, the boy smiles, tears still in his eyes.

               In the twentieth, he wipes away a tear and smiling says “It’s no use, right?  You don’t care about your leg… You’re happy anyway…”

               In the twenty first, the puppy looks at its missing leg and raises an ear in confusion.

               In the twenty second, it returns to looking at the boy with absolute joy.

               In the twenty third, we finally see the boy’s full body.  His own right leg is amputated above the knee.  He walks on crutches saying “OK, let’s play outside.”  The puppy runs ahead of him barking.

Public Property

Pregnant women often speak about total strangers asking to touch their bellies.  The social mores that keep people from requesting contact with the body of someone they do not know suddenly vanish in the face of that rounded mound of baby.  Even worse, a significant number of people don’t even request permission before giving a rub.  I cannot come up with another situation, except maybe when it comes to “directing” a blind person, in which respect for bodily personal boundaries is ignored.  Even when an individual in a crowd simply brushes up against a stranger accidentally, they apologize.

This behavioral anomally around pregnant women has been framed in terms of the woman’s belly becoming public property – as if everyone has the right to touch it the way they would a soft blanket on display at a department store.  Attempting to explain a specific behavioral tendency that currently has me annoyed, I reached for an example my therapist might understand and came up with that of pregnant women’s bellies.  Aspects of my life are being treated as public property.

Approaching a bus stop where I was to wait for a friend, I was asked by a man if he could pet my dog.  I said no explaining that while wearing the harness, she was working.  Apparently, he didn’t like my answer because a tirade ensued.


He started with the point that one little pet wasn’t going to be a problem.  I disagreed.  He then said I was being cruel and was I afraid my dog would hurt him?  I tried giving the complicated explanation about distractions and my safety.  He said if my dog was that badly behaved, she wasn’t trained well.  Was I just not training my dog properly?


I admit snapping at that point and saying something about having a dog previously that was highly distractible leading to me getting my nose broken.  That did not penetrate his skull.


About then, my friend’s “Just walk away.  He’s nuts>” penetrated and I tried leaving.  Really, I tried.


I had to turn back when he told me I should “Just stay home.”  Excuse me?  I don’t think so.


Let’s just say it went south from there and he was really insulting.


My point?  This man treated me, my dog and my life as though he had a right to comment upon them.  Everything about me had suddenly become public property.  I was the politician whose life is open to public scrutiny.  I was the actor living in the public eye.  I was just lacking any of the compensatory perks either of those roles supposedly bestows.


The worst part?  People stood there watching and did nothing.  Nobody said, “Hey, man, it’s her dog.  Leave her alone.”  In their silence, they were condoning his behavior.


To paraphrase a mother-to-be’s comment, “It’s my dog.  Keep your hands off!”  And, I would add, your opinions to yourself.



Amazing Revisited. Again.

Don’t roll your eyes, but I’m back to that “amazing” thing. Again. This time with something new. Promise.

I get to a doctor’s office via my dog, my feet and a bus. When the receptionist discovers this, she is in awe of me. Previously I’ve thought about this behavior in two ways. I’m amazing because I have failed to live down to the low expectations another individual has. I also become amazing when a person imagines walking in my shoes and decides I am doing something they could not. Now I think there might be a third possibility related to obstacles.

When people consider me going from point a to point b, they generate a mental list of all the steps that they think involve sight– assessing traffic to cross a street, determining what bus pulled up at the stop, getting on the bus and finding a seat, knowing what stop to disembark at and so on. Each of these tasks becomes tagged as “obstacle for blind person” in their heads. Because I have surmounted these obstacles, I become “amazing.”

This mental process is distinct from the first two, for there are no assumptions made about what I cannot do. The accolade is *earned* by doing things perceived as *challenging*, granting the praise the distinctive flavor of possibility. My amazingness is engendered not by doing the impossible but by accomplishing the unusual.

I have less objection when amazing is about overcoming an obstacle. I’m not performing magic, just doing something that might be hard. I can live with aspects of my life being perceived as hard, calling for skills most haven’t cultivated or even simply requiring above average persistence. It feels far less dismissive of…me.

Many people with disabilities, myself included, have issues with the concept of overcoming. The root lies in the fact that typically what we are seen to overcome is our disability, not the physical and social barriers society has created. To me, blindness is my natural state of being, so deciding that I have overcome it seems absurd. Do people of color overcome their skin color or the societal inequities and prejudice they encounter? Do cis-gendered women overcome their biology? Disability is a form of human variation that is an inherent part of the person possessing the trait. They’re not something you can discuss in terms of overcoming.

So, while being seen as amazing for overcoming obstacles is not totally insulting to me, I do take issue when the obstacle is perceived to be my disability. It’s like seeing me as amazing for overcoming my curly hair or extraordinarily narrow feet. The concept literally makes no sense. Fish, here’s your new bicycle. Ride it.

Running With Scissors

When I throw my yoga bag over my shoulder, my guide dog, Camille, runs over and assumes harness position. Knowing we are headed to a place of endless pets and belly rubs, her tail wags with greater than average enthusiasm. We call this a learned behavior, concluding Camille is smart for predicting what will happen.

A child carefully walks across their kindergarten classroom carrying a pair of scissors in the prescribed way. They have learned – probably because numerous adults have repeatedly scolded, coached and cajoled – that it is unsafe to run with scissors or to hold them the wrong way. We also consider this admirable behavior.

I walk into my local grocery store betting myself how long it will take to find someone to assist me. Through experience, I have learned that help will not materialize quickly or easily.

When a child learns safety procedures or a dog begins to accurately predict a routine, we call that good. When I anticipate an activity usually difficult will probably again be hard, I am making assumptions, thinking negatively and not giving people a chance.

Is there truly a difference between the three things?

When adult humans take the totality of their experience and apply it to a new similar event to forecast what will happen, we call it optimism if the predictions are good, and carrying around baggage when they are negative. If the prophecies are routinely downbeat, we are further labeled pessimists. Because we are creatures capable of reason, we try to overcome our negativity – to set down the baggage or remember that a familiar situation might turn out differently. In other words, set aside the statistically significant in favor of believing things will be better this time around. (This more positive attitude has been proven over and over to be healthier for us on a multitude of psychological and physical levels.)

At Rolling Around In My Head, Dave Hingsburger wrote an entry about <a href=””>his own personal baggage.</a> He articulates the fine line between the benefit of predicting based on past events and the ways baggage can interfere with our experience of a situation. To summarize, just because 95% of the time a situation unfolds in a specific way it does not mean you aren’t currently in the 5% of the time version. Behaving like it is the 95% of the time event when it is the 5% occurrence is suboptimal.

I began thinking about how the copious amounts of baggage people with disabilities carry is often used against us becoming a tool to minimize, silence and dismiss.

People with disabilities acquire their baggage by living. One morning, I did not impetuously decide knitting in public would elicit excessive praise. Instead, it happened repeatedly, creating my voluminous luggage over time as I interacted with the world. Based on that, I might leave the knitting at home to avoid unwanted attention. Suddenly, I’m judged to be carrying unreasonable and unnecessary baggage, impacting my decisions negatively. (To be clear, even I think leaving the knitting at home is absurd, but not because of the reasons given. I think letting other’s ignorance limit my actions is just that…. limiting.)

This baggage can in fact provide a benefit in the form of lessons about how to approach a situation. Last time I asked a bus driver to drop me off at a particular stop and didn’t pay close attention, problems developed. That part of my baggage helps me remember to remind drivers, even if I might be perceived as annoying. The label “nice” is not worth it if I end up in an unsafe situation.

Sharing this acquired knowledge with others often backfires. I’m not seen as learning through experience and being prudent; I am perceived as holding one person responsible for another’s actions. “How do you know this driver will forget about your stop?” In fact, I don’t know. I just know that if they do forget, it will suck to be me.

I do agree with Dave that determining if you are in the 95% situation or the 5% one and not treating one like the other is key. Therefore, if a driver is announcing each and every stop, I don’t offer any reminders of my request.

The thing that bothers me the most, and the thing I cannot prove through logic or reason, is the fact that my same actions done by a non-disabled person would be perceived differently. I have baggage. They’re being smart.

Leveling such value judgments at the same behavior done by different people is the first step in employing social control. It isn’t far from “Why are you behaving in such a negative manner?” to “Nobody likes a negative person,” to “Your bad attitude is why nobody will be friends with you.”

Do I sometimes behave badly? Of course. Is it sometimes because I used my experience as a person with a disability (baggage) and judge things badly? Definitely. How does this make me any different from a person without a disability who uses their experience gained over time? It doesn’t. Why, then, is mine baggage and theirs learning? I’m just running with scissors, cutting myself and using more care the next time around.

Brutal Honesty

Sometimes twelve days on a lake with your family and guide dog who suddenly acquired gills is exactly what you need to refocus. I left warn out from Pride and wondering how I should change my life. without consciously even thinking about it, I came home knowing what to do. My subconscious is so smart.

I need to come clean about why this blog has been so silent. It began as a series of infections, then the habit of not writing took over, or so I thought. In actuality, I was avoiding emotional “stuff.”

Writing this blog with the frank honesty I want means digging in my feelings and uncovering what is underneath. Exposing buried emotional issues to the light of day can be hard and is definitely always intense. Since I was avoiding anything not immediately obvious on the surface, I steered clear of a writing process that would force me to examine things. When I eventually realized this fact, I made a conscious choice to continue not writing. My avoidance was in fact a smart decision on the part of my subconscious.

The emotional issues are still there, but I have unearthed them, cleaned them off, sorted them into piles and assembled the fragments into a picture.

There is a lack of emotional intimacy in my life that doesn’t work for me. At all. I can accept many of the ways my life is directly effected by disability – unemployed, limited income, lack of access to information and even having to ask for help. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a far harder time with the ways disability indirectly impacts my life based on how the world reacts – fewer friends, limited dating, people’s ignorant behavior and lack of respect. They all boil down to lack of emotional intimacy.

If you think about it, the direct consequences of my disabilities are things I can figure out, like fining meaningful things to do that take the place of paid work. How do you change the amount of emotional intimacy you need? And how do you increase the amount in your life when you aren’t the cause of the problem?

I used to think I needed to change my behavior or attitude or mannerisms or deodorant or something. At least in this area, I swallowed the idea thatDisability is the responsibility of the disabled

I was required to do whatever was necessary to make others comfortable and that would make it all better. I had to crack the jokes, not get angry about being treated as less than, educate, explain and accept with a smile whatever I had to. In this way, I would make others comfortable with me and they would want to be in my life. In other words, if I was nice enough, things would change. And, if they didn’t improve, I was obviously not being nice enough. My effort and attitude would fix everything.

Um, no. I have come to realize that how others react to my disabilities is not based on something I did. It’s about them. My only responsibility is to behave like a civil adult using the same measurements non-disabled people apply to themselves. Who, after all, would expect a non-disabled person to smile sweetly and thank the cashier who just handed your change to the person with you?

Still, I was left with a big problem: how do I deal with my need for emotional intimacy not being met? Good question. No answers.

While working my way through all of this, I couldn’t write this blog without making my abject misery worse. Now I can at least write about it. Progress.