Posts Tagged ‘physical disability teacher’

I am truly lucky. I have a job, again. My new position allows me to help people who are experiencing frustration with bureaucracy. Because I have been a person who has experienced so much of this type of difficulty myself, when I say, “I understand,” the words, I trust, never sound hollow. Sometimes I, too, have been very desperate – trying to find educational help for a relative; navigating the mental health system with a friend at his lowest; a life and death situation medically; a financial crunch as a young widow with two small children to support; victimized by a supposed “support” system for people with disabilities; suffered abuse as a disabled person in a medical institution…

Many times people have nowhere to turn or have run out of people to turn to because their emotions run high. How fortunate I am to have some training (thank you Selma Wasserman) and skills to assist people in a calm, soothing, rational manner. When people feel heard, they feel trust. With trust they can often move forward through difficulties with more strength. Empathetic responses can be learned. With practice they come naturally. Because the true passion for social justice comes both from my upbringing and my DNA, these learned responses are most fitting with my own character when crisis is in the voice of another human being.

I also find myself as advisor to friends and family. It is these same calm yet rational listening skills that are so helpful. I set firm limits on my time, but do so with kindness and care. No one, I hope, ever feels shut out by the limits. On the contrary, it is my hope that the limits keep me from being overburdened, yet also empower the individual to find some applicable options and take actions from our interactions.

BackgroundPearls3_1I write this after an interaction with a colleague for whom I have great admiration and respect. He is dealing with a person who has a particularly difficult personality. We had several conversations yesterday – some at work. I had to limit the time we spoke and yet my friend was very anxious to debrief with me and find some solutions to this terrible problem. I also found an email when I arrived home. Eliminating names, this is the gist of the content – I wanted to capture the pearls of my words, just in case they come in handy again!

“Don’t worry about the difficult person. He is not worth the stress. Stress is bad for your health. You need to stay healthy for your family.

This difficult person is poison to you. Don’t drink in his words. Poison is safe in a bottle – to be observed but never ingested.

My friend, there is always something good from every experience. Think of this is an opportunity. Every problem is just an opportunity in disguise. It is finding the opportunity that is sometimes the puzzle.

Enjoy life’s beauty.  Life is short.”

This morning he found his solution. Embedded in his email to me were some of these pearls.

Helping others is gratifying. We both gained happiness from our interaction.

I suppose being a teacher is being an advocate. One advocates for one’s students. We try to empower them in a system that denies rights to minors. We give them skills and confidence…anything we can to help them advocate for themselves but when they cannot we step in for them, fierce as mother bears.

And then there was the women’s movement. The supposed “third wave of feminism” taught me to challenge political structure and power holders while taking backup people with me. A lone voice is not as effective as the voice with many backers.

Ultimately, I became an advocate because in my greatest time of need, some people stepped (no, they wheeled) forward into my life and intervened, when a system powerful enough to put me in a nursing home for the crime of being disabled, chemically sensitive, and vocal threatened my freedom and my survival.

Paul Gauthier wheeled into my life and assured me that I was not being unreasonable when I requested scent-free care workers, or notice before nurse administrators arrived in my home. “If they tell you you’re being difficult,” he told me, “It just means you’re still alive.” How right he was. And how close I came to that precipice. When an institution, a system, a dangerous machine has control over your life…even those of us who are strong-willed and intelligent can be swept away. But thanks to that young man, and another wheeled advocate from the BC Paraplegic Association, Norman Haw, all that conspired to sweep me away failed. I emerged, stronger, independent, flourished…in control of my own life and care. So what else can I do but help others? And since I am not ALLOWED to work for pay, it is with pleasure that I try to help others navigate the medical system, or, as in my case, not be swallowed by it.

And as I give workshops, I often pay tribute to Paul without using his name. As it happens I was giving a workshop to a group of Medical Office Assistants on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and who was the organizer? Paul’s mother-in-law. She recognized the man I described from his good deeds, methinks…and she inquired if I knew her son-in-law. It’s a small world.

And I may not have thanked you in this decade, Mr. Gauthier, so thank you, once again!

The final day of my arbitration was held on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 in Coquitlam, British Columbia. I was very impressed with the lawyer for the union (for ME!) as he presented the closing arguments for our case. It was clear that he had developed personal respect for me, a deep and persoanl respect for the environmental issues surrounding the case and ultimately a fine argument in law.

The experience, although harrowing over the years of waiting ,  was indeed INTERESTING and  if nothing else, good or bad,  SCHOOL DISTRICT 36  vs BC TEACHERS’ FEDERATION  ELAINE WILLIS -DUTY TO ACCOMMODATE will ultimately set a precedent in arbitration law.

And my lawyer truly did such a fine job in the end. The professionalism I couldn’t see at all in the beginning shone through in spades.  The beginning of the journey was extremely  rough – he didn’t, I feel, see me as a person – didn’t see past my disabilities. In the end he saw more than that. In the end there was, I believe, mutual respect. He recognized that I am a teacher and quoted me several times. I was touched. His words were sincere, eloquent and heartfelt – and if I taught one person about the environmental impact of chemicals as opposed to my need for a fragrance free workplace, then I did a good thing! So I have to be happy in the end, whatever the outcome.

The battles for those of us with disabilities, and especially for those of us with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, are huge. There are many false beliefs about our abilities and the nature of our disabilities. The truth remains that we are people, to be treated as all people, with dignity, equality and respect. We are not to be shut away in our homes as society continues to demand of us.

Education is enlightenment. I WILL CONTINUE TO BE A TEACHER!  This process may enable me to do so for a living as well!