By Douglas J. Usiak, Chief Executive Officer
If you have been reading my articles with any regularity, you know that I like to expound on anything relating to our rights as full and equal partners in society. My
own experiences have proven to me that people with disabilities can certainly make a change for the better, raise a family, and contribute, with the ongoing support of our communities’ values.
Just the other day, while we were getting our travel trailer ready for our annual vacation trip with my grandson, my wife, Becky, started an odd conversation with someone.
She said, “Hi there, selling something? Why don’t you come up here and show me what you have?”.
Now as a blind guy, I was filling the water storage up, didn’t see what was happening (of course), and really got confused as to why my wife was prompting someone to sell something and wondered what had captured her interest. Then, I heard a man’s voice respond.
“Hi, there! We live in the yellow house over there, and my boys here are selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts. We have all kinds, and if you don’t see what you like here in the wagon, here is a catalogue you can look at. And if you order something, you can have it in two days.”
Well, we chatted a bit, and then this guy said, “You know, your house is the first house we stop at every Halloween. My boys here, 8 and 10-years-old, have to come and see what you folks are doing. You guys are the best in the neighborhood!”
You know this guy just sold me a truckload of popcorn with that comment! Halloween is the best day of the year for me. Each year, my buddy Ernie, sometimes my family, and I set up a little live costumed front-door show for the neighborhood to be entertained, interact, and get free candy, snacks or trinkets… That is, after we all converse and laugh, shake our heads in embarrassment, or run in fear from the experience. (Some little kids scare SO easily, but that’s not our intent!) Even with all that said, this is the day I prepare for, and do my best to see that those who come to my house are fully entertained. So, as you’d expect, getting this kind of unsolicited accolade for our efforts on Halloween was just the best thing I could’ve heard! …And to know that the neighborhood got a kick out of it was even better!
After getting over having spent $20 on popcorn, I started thinking. You know, he didn’t say anything about the fact that the guy who does this thing to entertain his kids was blind. Unlike some newspaper columnists, he didn’t say “how inspiring [I] was for overcoming my disability to do this Halloween thing”. He definitely did NOT pat me on the head, telling me that I “must be so strong to fight through my disability”. He didn’t say any of those things; (thank goodness!) He simply said, “thanks for entertaining my kids on Halloween”, and the two little boys gave me their own big thanks and went on, down the street, to make it big in the popcorn trade.
I really liked that short interaction; meeting and chatting with a neighbor and supporting his kids’ Cub Scout Troop. It felt good to be appreciated for being something memorable in the neighborhood, and even being identified as a house they could hit on for that donation. And all of that without any big whoop or fanfare just a thanks for being there on that one… no, make that two days out of the year.
So, if you really give it some thought, you’ll discover that’s what Independent Living is all about. Empowerment! Making sure that -- as people with disabilities -- we can live in our neighborhoods, work in our communities, and engage with our society, as we take on the responsibilities of being full and equal partners!