I’m not gonna shelter in place. I’m just not. I’m a fighter. I can’t sit idly by and do nothing.
Now… before you FrEaK oUt on me, let me explain.
As I work on a college campus, I’ve taken plenty of workshops about active shooters, sheltering in place, and what to do in an emergency. I have friends who are cops, one in particular the chief of police in a nearby district. He was the first one to converse with me about a new mindset and belief that sheltering in place is not always the best thing to do. Evacuate, fight, run to a safe location as fast as you can AND DON’T KNOCK ANYONE DOWN AS YOU FLEE. It was an interesting concept to me and I got a lot out of the discussion. When active shooters and workplace violence became the “norm” for the United States, initial thoughts were to barricade and shelter in place. Now the experts believe that may not always be the wisest thing to do.
Frankly, I was relieved. One of the hardest things for me to do is sit back and watch and wait and HOPE FOR THE BEST. I’m learning and growing that sometimes I MUST do that, but it was very freeing to come to terms with other options if needed. I’m going to take this out of context a bit for the sake of this 2-part post. I wanted to give you this background though before continuing. I’d hate for you to be reading and thinking, “Um. Denise is off her rocker”.
(would never happen since I can’t rock – the things one gives up when you have a balance disorder *rolls eyes*)
Not Gonna Shelter in Place – When I Could Be Making a Difference Elsewhere
I’ve had the kind of year that I needed and took some “me time”. After finally completing my doctorate, I took some time to re-group. Even then, however, life — like LIFE does so well — continued and I had some great things happen and some not-so-great things happen. I found I had all this extra time and searched for ways to give back. (Temporary switch of gears) — One of the most frustrating things I have to deal with as a differently-abled person is accessibility.
Accessibility is more than having push-button doors, ramps, and handicapped parking. I work at a place (college campus) that is very accessible to me physically – with the exception of push-button doors on bathrooms – and we have a director of Facilities who does a great job of informing students, faculty, and staff about any campus changes that may impact mobility. We have internal professional development courses that work to educate and train other employees about persons with disability in the classroom and workplace. Accessibility also means, however, providing opportunities for people with disabilities to volunteer and work alongside other employees… professional development and opportunities to give back. My campus is outstanding in this type of accessibility.
My church is one of the most accessible buildings I have ever been in to date. Elevators, ramps, push-button doors (even on the bathrooms – grin), a looped auditorium (and if you have a hearing loss, I cannot begin to tell you what a huge deal this is), and numerous handicapped parking spaces are just a few of the ways the building and grounds are fully accessible. I even nominated them for a county recognized award one year, for truly they have gone the extra mile in making the church campus accessible on a physical level. They have always welcomed my service dogs. Chloe, who retired 2014 and passed away 2016, Milo, who retired 2018, and pup-in-training, Finn, have all been welcomed. I attend with them and have been able to use them to assist me in navigating safely with the blessing of those I worship with on Sunday.
I have hesitated to write about this on my blog as I in no way wish to criticize any individual or group, so have decided to go at this as a means to challenge religious and non-profit organizations to welcome and allow people with disabilities to SERVE. For you see? Accessibility is more than a functioning and accessible building. Accessibility is providing opportunities for service. Cuz y’all? We can and do serve. We can and do work. We can and do run for office, volunteer, and folks? We can and DO make a difference. Anyone who thinks or says differently is just wrong. Anyone who doesn’t provide opportunities to allow people with disabilities to serve and make a difference – should. After asking on 3 separate occasions for opportunities to teach at my church, I decided to move in a different direction and found a great place to serve. My challenge to places of worship (with members with disability), is: Don’t forget that people with disabilities are perfectly capable. They are able to and often desire to serve. Make it possible for them to do so.
After sheltering in place for 8 months, I finally “left the room”. There wasn’t a dangerous and armed enemy that I was hiding from and barricading myself into a safe place. I had just finished a very time-consuming and energy-draining endeavor (finishing my degree) and was regrouping and trying to make decisions on how best to use this time that was once spent writing and researching. I was safe and sheltered, yet requesting opportunities to leave that room and GET BUSY. I went searching and FOUND a great opportunity to make a difference in my non-work hours. (I didn’t have to look far as it was a non-profit that already knew me and knew they could use my talents and skills to promote their mission as Director of Client Services).
Just Leave the Room and Go Looking
I “meet” so many kinds of people with disability and chronic illness through “Hearing Elmo”. The condition and challenges may be different in every individual, but I have never met anyone who simply wasn’t capable of making a difference in some way, shape, fashion, or form. I have written about the prevalence of mood disorders and anxiety disorders that accompany acquired disability. It makes sense that a “new normal” does more than create physical and health-related challenges. Disability can affect us mentally and emotionally as well. I truly believe that isolation contributes to mental health disorders. For many of us, we may have to go out searching for ways to make a difference. Maybe it is blogging! Perhaps you can teach a class or coordinate a support group. You may ask for ways to get involved and be ignored and not given opportunities to suit your strengths and capabilities. Please don’t let this stop you. Keep looking and keep asking. I believe that finding even small opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others, contributes to improved mental health which can impact our overall health! (If interested in research that supports this, please email me!)
Part two of this series will be discussing sheltering in place BECAUSE WE SHOULD. I’ve been there and came out “alive” on the other side.
L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.
©2019 Personal Hearing Loss Journal