Observations from Below: I'm no Superman

Observations from Below: I'm no Superman
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Karen Wilson

I’ve always had a problem with watching too much news, and fixating on the negative aspects. It’s easy to do in the 24-hour news cycle we have. For a time when I was younger, my mom didn’t allow me to watch any news because I had an overactive imagination. I would think that the things I watched on TV would happen to us. I grew out of that, but when I started having dreams about my advocacy work and health care bills that didn’t happen, I knew I had a problem. I needed an escape. Earlier this year I read a book about the history and cultural elements of Batman. So, on a whim, I bought a book by the same author about the history of Superman. Since then I have read three different books on the same subject.

My paternal aunt must have seen what books I was reading on Facebook, because for my birthday card, she drew a picture of me with the Superman cape and the famous “S” on my chest. I have been surprised by people’s response since I posted it on Facebook. Most people think that it’s fitting for me to be wearing that familiar costume. I’ll point out that this is the second time that I’ve been compared to a superhero since I began the blog. So maybe people are on to something.

While I’m excited by the comparison, there’s nothing superhuman about me or what I’m doing. However, being a full time self-advocate for people with disabilities is a sacrifice. I was talking to one of my fellow self-advocates, and I was struck by how simple our dreams are. She wants enough money to be able to have a nice apartment with her husband and adopt a child. In my case, believe it or not, I do have other interests.

In college I loved working as a journalist for the college newspaper, and out of over fifty columns I wrote, only three about disability. I enjoyed having a different topic every week. I would have to interview all kinds of people and l learned a lot of information about a lot of topics. One of the things that annoys me about my life’s work is a lot of people have already made the same arguments that I have to restate. Although I am passionate about all this stuff, I do get bored. I would have hoped that we would be much further down the road to equality than we are. One way that I am similar to Superman is that I want to see the good in people, and I am willing to work hard to bring it out of them.

It’s always interesting to me to see the changes in my assistants as they work with me. They’ve all picked up on different things. One of them went into physical therapy after working with me. Another went into the mental health field, helping people. Another became very excited to become a mom and raise a family. They all have left me with a passion for disability rights, I don’t know where they got that from.

My current helper, Dave, is now very passionate about the word “retarded”. Specifically, about abolishing its use around him. He reports every time he stops someone from using it in his company. That’s very cool. The funny thing is that not really one of my big issues., although I understand why it is to some people, and I know the preferred term is intellectual disability.

Like Superman, I don’t always know who I’m helping. I go to a lot of conferences and speak to a lot of people in the hopes that someone takes something back to their community. I don’t always have complete concrete evidence of a change happening as a result of my work. But for the first time in a long time, I got some. At one of the meetings, I spoke to Valerie Foushee, a member of the General Assembly from Orange County, who happens to be on the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities. I had a conversation with her about North Carolina’s disability history law and how it’s not being implemented very well across the state. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in one informal lunch with a legislator. She followed me on twitter, got me a meeting with the head of special education in North Carolina, and most interestingly, a couple of weeks later, a board member of a different disability organization forwarded the email from the superintendent of Chapel Hill schools to every parent in the Chapel Hill school district, pledging that disability history will be taught in October, just like the law requires. I bet anything that the state senator that I spoke with made a few calls, and that’s how it happened. It’s rewarding to be able to make change in a place which I only visit. Now if I can only make the same change in my local county, and the other 98.

One final similarity to Superman, to this point, I haven’t been paid much. But there’s a rumor that may change very soon. I’m apparently being eyed for a lot of disability rights jobs. But that’s something for another blog. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be back from my latest Washington trip. That’s how I roll.

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