By KODEY TONEY
It’s been a week since I wrote the last column on a plane to Virginia. This time I’m again on a plane, and on my way back to Oklahoma. This week has been, in a word, overwhelming.
In addition to learning more about disability law from some of the top lawyers and advocates in the world, I also had the good fortune to make new friends. After all networking is one of the best ways to help advocate for your family and others.
Despite a two-day journey back home this weekend, courtesy of Southwest Airlines and their delays, reroutes, and cancellations, this trip was great.
I could bore you with a bunch of the legal mumbo-jumbo, but instead I’ll tell a few of the personal lessons I learned.
The first that comes to mind is something I think we have a tough time with still. Don’t let anyone, including the New York Bar Association, tell you you’re dumb or can’t do anything. Marilyn Bartlett spoke to use about the time that she took on the NYBA because, despite her learning disabilities she earned her law degree but was not allowed to take the bar exam with extended time. She was made to feel dumb, worthless and lazy because of her learning difference.
It’s a shame that others can’t understand that just because it’s difficult for you to learn a certain way doesn’t mean that you are dumb. It means that we need to find another way to make you shine.
The next lesson I found very useful. If you advocate for anyone other than yourself or your child you can’t quote the law or it’s considered unauthorized practice of law. Kayla Bower of the Oklahoma Disabilty Law Center scared the advocates a little on this one, but for good reason. This can get you into a ton of trouble. This is why it’s important to be creative with the way you let others know that you know the law and expect them to abide by it. One way I’ll share with you is to ask them how they interpret the issue at hand. Show them the law or statute and ask them what they think it means.
My new friend Jim Comstock-Galagan taught me a couple things, but one was that you can use personal characteristics to help others understand your standpoint. They have to relate to your cause, but if they don’t have disabilities or children with disabilities it can be difficult. Jim takes something personal; race, religion, sex, etc. and uses that to help them relate. This can be a powerful tool if used correctly. You’re not trying to insult, just help them see why this issue is so important to you.
He also taught me that, if you want to ride a historical landmark you have to find ways to convince the powers that be to make modifications. Jim lives in New Orleans where they have street cars from the early 20th century. The problem is that Jim, because he uses a scooter to get around, cannot ride them. When family is in town and wants to ride them he cannot. He tried to work with the city council, but because they were part of the historical register nobody wanted to modify them because they felt it would alter their historical significance. He found a councilman and explained that he would like to be able to ride them, and used the man’s race as a reference to help him understand why this was not right.
Pete Wright reminded me that you have to do your homework. This may be something I’ve known that I was reassured this weekend. You have to know the law even if you are not a lawyer. You have to know why you can ask for the things you want and why you should.
And from my new friend, and advocate extraordinaire, Pat Howey, I learned a lot, but most importantly I learned you have to take life one sunset at a time.
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