“So, how big will Mac get when he grows up?” came the query from two of his 6th grader friends, J1 & J2.
“ ‘Cause we move him from his wheelchair to his jogger now you know,” they added.
Think about that for a moment … their motivation for this knowledge comes from the fact they’ve taken it upon their 11 and 12-year-old selves to lift and shift Mac to whatever chair he wants to be in. And, more importantly, obviously plan on lifting their mate when they are grown ups – they just want to know how big he’s going to be so they know they’ll be strong enough.
They were pretty content with the fact Mac is likely to always be a little bit smaller than them (potentially significantly smaller than some of these very strapping, super sporty lads).
The conversation changed tack. “So, how did Mac actually get his disability again?” asked one of them. Every so often, different kids seek more information. I gave them a quick recap, offering the odd clarification they needed along the way – they knew most of it, but clearly just wanting to sure it up in their own minds.
And then came their take on past events.
“Well, that kind of sucked,” said J1.
“But I can’t really imagine Mac any other way … he wouldn’t be him.
“And really,” he went on, “it’s probably better. If he was like us, imagine just how much trouble he would get himself into.”
My heart sang!
“It’s. Probably. Better.” Did you hear that?
Mac’s mates just ‘get him’. They know him, know he can be a villain, that he can be cheeky, facetious and, I’m sure, at times disrespectful. They’ve worked out not actually saying or acting on everything you think or feel might actually be to your benefit. It works for Mac. Just quietly, these are a couple of kids who know all too well the pain of dealing with poor choices, they’ve quite a bit of experience over their primary school years – they are awesome kids … they’re just, shall we say, “spirited”.
But this is bigger than just ‘getting Mac’. This is what happens when people with disability are truly and authentically part of their community. Disability isn’t viewed as the ‘worst thing ever’ where ‘death’ is preferable to living with a disability.
It was just what my heart needed to hear.
Considering the recent commentary here in Australia and internationally where we have been slammed by the media and the “Dying with Dignity marketing campaign” which so readily sends a message that disability is undignified and people should be able to choose death over living with a disability I feel somewhat comforted that this next generation won’t be so ignorant.
For those kids/families growing up in an inclusive community, I have a renewed sense of confidence that disability fear-mongering will not get the traction it currently does by so many in our society. In fact, I was reminded of another conversation Mac and I had with his mate K last year, when K said he “kind-of wishes he could have a tummy tube just like Mac’s so that if he was too tired to eat after footy training, or if his mum made a ‘disgusting dinner’, he could stick it down the tube”. It is quite amazing the different insight into disability Mac’s peers get compared to those adults who would argue it’s better to die than be fed via a tube.
If you want to understand why the Dying with Dignity legislation and campaigns are so dangerous to people with a disability please read this article. These people, far smarter and more articulate than me, can explain it so much better.
So, as International Day of People with a Disability draws to a close for 2014, I take great comfort in the fact there are kids in our midst who don’t see disability as something dreadful or undignified. These kids, because there is no “us and them” where “all means all” just get disability for what it is … no big deal, or in some instances … something that might actually be “better”.