Everyone remembers his or her first job. Most people start off in fast food or retail. My first job was at US Cellular Field on the Southside of Chicago also known as the home of the White Sox. I was a guest services rep or an usher, for those who are less familiar. As a GSR I encountered thousands of people at every home game. One home game in my short career as a GSR was different from all the rest. The game ended and I stood at the bottom of a section on the 500 level (the top of the stadium) and watched as all the fans flowed towards the exits. There was a lone man sitting wearing headphones and a grin. I was young and impatient. I walked up to the man and asked him if he was waiting on someone. He said, “No, I’m blind and I need a ride home.” This was my first time meeting someone from the differently able community.
I had gone 16 years of my life without communicating with a person that was that different from me. The only blind people I was familiar with were musicians who donned sunglasses! After escorting the man to the restroom and walking with him to call a cab, I felt shame as I walked to the employee locker room. I was ashamed because this blind man came to a baseball game without a ride home and the only thing I could focus on during our walk together was getting off work in a timely matter. In full disclosure I’d like to say everyone is a dick at this age and I wasn’t any different. I don’t remember saying one word to the guy as we walked. I didn’t ask him if he enjoyed the game or what his name was and where he was from. I was a deer in headlights.
I thought about all the different people I learned about growing up and the differently able community was the only group left out. Growing up black, I know what it's like to be different. I know what it's like for people to look at you weird on public transportation or for people to talk to you like they’ve never been around “your type” before. That happens when a person really isn’t educated about a certain community. As a kid I was never really taught about blindness and how it affects a person.
Let's not limit it to blind people.
I was never taught about people who are physically or mentally challenged. The only things I’ve known about the differently able community came from movies.
I love movies, but that’s not the best way to learn about a group of people.
There was this movie on Disney called Tru Confessions about a girl who aspired to be on television and her twin brother who is autistic. After watching the movie, I felt pity for Eddie. A few years later I started high school where I met a kid with autism for the first time. My first reaction was to feel "pity" for Brian but he showed me how wrong that was. Within the first few days of school, Brian memorized the student directory with everyone’s address and phone numbers. When people tried to pick on him, he went back at them. I swear he cursed more than I did. Brian wasn’t a charity case he was unique.
One regret I have is not having enough courage to be his friend. We all talked to him but none of us cared enough to make sure he was OK in school or if everything was cool at home. Maybe I’m asking too much of my 16 year old self. The best teachers never let him off the hook when he wanted to slack off like us because they knew he was smart. I’ll never forget Brian.
The fan from that game and Brian taught me more about the differently able community than school ever did. When we were kids, it feels like our educators tried to hide kids who were different from us instead of teaching us that we shouldn’t look at people as "diseased" or "afflicted" - just different. Life deals us all different hands and in the end we’re forced to play them.
Follow Kelvin on Twitter at @Woneywill
Photo: Ruben Plasencia Canino