June 24, 2007

To Oakland, California: A Short Trip - A Long History

There is a comfort to culture. A shared history helps weave the tentative threads of introductions into a tangled web of conversation that does not want to end.

Whirlwind wheelchairs

Last night there was more than 100 years of disability culture’s history-making in the room as Deborah Kaplan hosted a barbeque and impromptu salon in Oakland, California. I look forward to her plan to plan to extend the ritual into the South Bay soon.

The evening was quintessential disability culture – unavoidably interdependent as the tasks of meal preparation, serving, and clean-up ebbed and flowed between guests of differing abilities. Held in a co-housing community, with food gathered from street markets and shops no more than three accessible blocks distant, the menu featured stories shared with humor and intelligence.

Looking up at the almost-full-moon illuminating the dinner table I could imagine the globe-encompassing view from that vantage point in space as an icon of the dinner scene. Names flew past trailed by short vignettes:

Ralf Hotchkiss told how Kalle Konkola, from Finland launched him into a project in Africa that eventually grew into Whirlwind Wheelchairs I recalled Kalle as whirlwind himself blowing across the University of Washington campus in about 1975 while I, his host, tried to keep up with him and introduce him to the university’s first Disabled Students Commission that we had just established. Both Ralf and I shared that we carried around Kalle’s trademark gift - wheelchair safety reflectors - for decades!

Deborah told evocative stories of Topong Kulkanchit leading her and a delegation of disability advocates through overwhelmingly supportive crowds of Thai citizens in the people power demonstrations overthrowing the government.

We caught each other up on the work being done by Rosangela Bermain-Beiler, Paul Longmore, Richard Gomes, Simon Darcy, Tom Richert, Marca Bristo and many more. We scanned through projects by ADAPT, recalling back to the days of Wade Blank, the W3C Web Accessibility Intiative, Vidyasagar, DNI, DPI, AAPD, SEIU, - and even AARP.

Ralf’s legends of boarding busses, trains, and especially, airplanes would be enough to satisfy any screenwriter of action and adventure movies. Rajiv Rajan, reinforcements are on the way when Ralf returns to his shop in Chennai. Bravo to the 100 community members who linked arms in public solidarity not only with Rajiv – but with thousands of us over the years who believe that “physiology is not destiny” and have gone on to prove it by implanting practices of Universal Design in every part of this world.

Posted by rollingrains at June 24, 2007 06:18 PM