Most of the time when I go places, I stand out. People notice me. Not by choice, just by circumstance. Because my situation is different than most, accommodations are required routinely in my day to day life. I have to find the elevator. Or a curb cut. Or the accessible entrance. And hope that not every accessible parking spot has already been taken. And that people are using the stalls that are appropriate for them in the restroom. Most of the time, that is okay. Just a fact. A reality. It’s not something I spend much time thinking about. Once in a great while though, there comes a day when I sincerely appreciate simply being one among many.
It happens once a year. The publishing company that I work for has a writing conference for all the people who write and take photos for their various magazines. I have a good time spending the day with people who have similar passions. These are some people who truly understand why I need to write.
It’s a good crowd.
Yesterday’s speakers talked about how to write a memoir (my kind of thing) diagraming sentences, (not exactly my thing. Actually, who am I kidding?) and a film project about Langston Hughes (who spent his childhood in Lawrence.) There was one more speaker but I ducked out early. Having spent the previous two days in the hospital started to catch up with me.
The writing conference was held in the basement of the Journal-World building. It was where I went for the interview before I started writing the column that I do. I’ve been there a few times since. The newspaper staff is on the main floor and there are several other rooms downstairs. The latter is where the conference was held.
What impressed me when I arrived was that the set up was totally accessible. There were tables and chairs configured in rows, and I could get under any table in the room. I chose a spot in the first row as a place to sit. But that was only out of habit. Usually, I do so because when I am up front there is less of a chance of not being able to see over something that is in front of me. Based on the setup yesterday though, it would not have mattered. I would have been able to see everything no matter where I happened to be in the room. That doesn’t happen often. Although I sincerely appreciate every time anyone makes an accessible space for me at an event I am attending, it always warms my heart when the venue is totally accessible to begin with. That is what settles in my soul as true inclusion.
When it was time for lunch, my caregiver and I went out to the lobby where sandwiches were arranged on trays, just like the fruit croissants and coffee had been in the morning. After waiting in line like everyone else, I told the woman behind the table (she’s an editor) what kind of sandwich I preferred, and she handed me a plate before she served the next person in line. That is, I went through exactly the same process to get lunch as every other person there. It was awesome! All that and a bag of chips too. Grin!
A couple of times during lunch I had the opportunity to chat with some other writers. Each conversation focused on writing. Nothing else. Each one asked me what kind of column I wrote and I asked them the same. It was a completely level playing field. And I loved every minute.
When I told Nathan, my boss, that I was going to leave early because I wasn’t feeling stellar, he graciously volunteered to wait with me in the lobby while Ally, my caregiver went and got the car. Then, because it was raining pretty significantly, he put an umbrella over my head and walked out with me, staying with us until we got me transferred from my wheelchair to the car safe and sound. I’ve known Nathan for the past several years. His gesture was incredibly nice but I know it had nothing to do with my disability. I’m willing to bet gold that Nathan would have done something similar for anyone going out in the rain. He is a really nice guy.
Being at this particular writing conference was good for me. A welcome change.
All day I was just one of the crowd.