Tuesday, October 28, 2008


It has been a month since I have begun teaching poetry at United Cerebral Palsy. The position has been, at turns, wonderful and difficult, but absolutely not what I expected.

My students have numerous limitations. Most use wheelchairs. Some have only partial hearing or vision. Many need assistance to write. Some have mental challenges. The latter are the most difficult for me to work with, solely because I am not used to them. Being around people with disabilities does take some getting used to. But, soon, the silly thing people say about me ... 'we forget you're disabled' actually becomes true. Very quickly, what rises to the top is whether you like a certain person (or don't) and whether you are truly understanding what they are about. My students can be difficult to understand because of speech barriers, but certainly no more than a so-called able-bodied person, just in a different manner.

Here's what does surprise me, for reasons that are unclear the staff and clients don't seem to have any experience with a person with CP in a so-called position of power. Believe me, I'm just teaching a poetry workshop and I use that term lightly. But, it's interesting to me that when I walk in the building both clients and staff confuse me with a client. There seems to be a real segregation between able-bodied (i.e. helpers) and disabled (i.e. helped) people. Other than one janitor, I have yet to actually meet anyone with a disability who works there. This is not to disparage UCP at all. I am just, well, pretty surprised. I thought in such an atmosphere, the lines between able-bodied and disabled would be more blurry.

Tomorrow, more on language poetry, channeling Robert Duncan, and the I Ching.

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