Playing Bodyguard

October 14, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Barton's Blogs, Uncategorized, wheelchairs, Wild Stories You Just Wouldn't Believe | 2 Comments
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What a night Saturday was! I certainly did not expect to be shifting from engaging in a casual conversation with someone at the bar to making sure he couldn’t do damage to anyone in the crowd, least of all himself. It just happened to work out that way for some reason.

Those who know us are aware that a village pub isn’t exactly what we would consider a typical hangout but since our friends were playing we thought it would be a nice change of pace. When we got there it was nearing 11 and a number of patrons had clearly already had their share to drink. After we got settled at the front of the bar, close to where the band was set up, a man close to me struck up a conversation.

At first I found this interesting as it was clear that despite his blood/alcohol level, there was some genuine interest in talking. After all, I suppose it’s not every day that you see two guys in wheelchairs roll into a bar. I was open to chatting and was pretty impressed at how well he understood me. As he began to talk more, it became apparent that he needed someone to listen and I was happy to do so since I saw this as a healthier option for him than pouring more alcohol on top of his troubles. Soon, however, it was obvious that things were beginning to shift.

As soon as he turned back to his buddies, he downed another beer before trying to reengage. This happened several times, and with each, he became increasingly dangerous to himself and those around him. I was done. It was clear that he had no interest in the opportunity I was offering. He began to stumble aimlessly trying to get others to dance with him. As he began knocking into others, including those on stage, I began creating distance between him and where we were sitting in order to protect Megan and our two friends. In a final attempt to engage us, he extended his hand over my head to ask Megan to dance. Realizing that Megan did not fully grasp what he was asking in the moment, I playfully interrupted the line he was extending by gently redirecting his arm, and intent, with a friendly nudge and glance.  

While this ended his attempts to engage with us directly, he was still way off kilter and on the verge of toppling over. From where we sat, however, our friends could not safely navigate to an exit and so my next task was to keep them from being trampled upon. By the end of the show, the guy’s friends had contained him somewhat. And that, combined with my capacity to serve as designated linebacker allowed us to open a safe path to the door for our friends.

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Finding the Safe Space

September 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Barton's Blogs, Speaking Engagements | Leave a comment
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Barton and Megan training in Budo Taijutsu in Alabama.

Barton and Megan training in Budo Taijutsu in Alabama.

This past week, we were given the opportunity to give the keynote presentation for West Virginia’s People First Conference. We had the pleasure of addressing 200+ people on “Staying Safe in the Community,” and what that entails for people with disabilities, their direct support and their family members. Much of our discussion focused on the importance of developing a greater awareness of one’s surroundings in order to not only recognize potential danger before something happens, but more importantly, to define one’s own safe space.

One participant described this space as a bubble around someone that is unquestionably one’s own. For many people who have disabilities and rely on the assistance of others from many daily living tasks, maintaining the space may not often be as clear-cut as others who don’t rely on the same level of support.

Because of this, it becomes all the more important that people with disabilities have a clearly defined sense of what is and is not acceptable for those around them to do. It is equally important for them to have the skills, ability and courage to be able to reinforce these boundaries when necessary.

While there are many levels to this, many of which may be considered self-advocacy skills, Megan and I had the chance to go beyond what is often covered in other type of advocacy training and address issues of personal safety and protection in direct and tangible ways. Working with smaller groups of participants in several breakout sessions, Megan and I took participants through exercises to enhance their awareness, set their own safe space and protect themselves if that space was not honored. Each person, no matter what their initial level of ability was, came away with a more defined sense of empowerment and ability to act.

It is such an incredible experience to witness the transformations that occurs in others when they are not only given the tools to empower themselves, but also have the space to explore these tools and discover their own capacity to survive and thrive in an overwhelming situation.

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The Work We Do Together

September 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Posted in Megan's Blogs, Speaking Engagements | Leave a comment
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Barton and Megan before speaking at the People First Conference at jackson's Mill, WV.

Barton and Megan before speaking at the People First Conference at jackson's Mill, WV.

Last year, we traveled to Jackson’s Mill, West Virginia and spoke at a People Conference, sharing our personal story and discussing creating healthy relationships for individuals with disabilities. In the session before the end of the conference, there was a talk and discussion on relating abuse to people with disabilities. Over 80% of people with disabilities will experience some kind of abuse in their lives, and more often than naught, it will be from those they know- direct support staff, families or caretakers. Many people were open about sharing personal experiences about abuse or the crossing of boundaries by others.  

This year, we were excited to come back to the People First Conference and shed light on creating safety in the community and creating personal safe space. We also talked about when your safe space becomes unsafe, both the physical and emotional impact.

The next day, Barton and I taught basic awareness, empowerment and a few self-defense skills to 30 participants during the morning. We saw participants come alive, become engaged and open up to how they can apply these skills in their own lives.

Barton and I worked well together during the week, building and playing off of each other. It is a reminder to us that in addition to our individual goals and dreams, we have this work that we do together that is undeniably important. It cannot happen if it is just Barton or just myself- it is a reminder of our partnership, our marriage and our vision of reaching others.

Megan's artistic picture taking a break at the Conference at Jackson's Mill.

Megan's artistic picture taking a break at the Conference at Jackson's Mill.

 

We each bring components that others can relate to, whether it’s Barton’s experience using a wheelchair, mine as a female, or or our story of how we met and how we overcome adversity together. When we are able to come together and work in this way, incredible things happen. And others are able to see, in tangible ways, how step by step, they can do the same.

During the conference, we took a break and spent a few hours writing haiku, lying on the grass in a spacious field. While I kept feeling the tugs of many other projects I should be working on, Barton brought me back to the present moment, enjoying not only the conference itself, but also the time we spent together.

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