I must admit here that I oftentimes crack myself up with my titles that probably most of you don’t even notice. This title is no exception. I’m thinking it’s pretty clever.
If you’ve never heard of Norman Kunc, you should stop now and google him. You should go to youtube and search his name. You should go to his website. He is so not-the-norm. And I was recently challenged by him as I attended two workshops where he was the presenter.
The day started with a talk at a local library. Norm told part of his story: he was born with cerebral palsy. His family was encouraged to put him in an institution. But his mom chose to take him home. He attended a special school for disabled children until he was in 8th grade at which time he transferred to a regular public school. He went on to graduate from public school. He continued on to graduate from college and later received his Master’s degree. He is married and has children. He owns his own business. He travels internationally as a public speaker. His disability does not prevent his living and enjoying life.
His story is remarkable … inspiring. He challenged us about the all-too-common act of helping others (especially those with a disability) out of benevolence and out of a need and desire to help others. So many times helping other people makes us feel better. Sometimes helping is for us instead of the person we are helping.
Norm presented to us that perhaps the person with a disability doesn’t even want our help — maybe doesn’t need it. Sometimes stepping in to help shows a lack of respect and steals the person’s dignity. Perhaps it would be more of a help to him/her if we just left them alone, gave them space and time to complete the task themselves.
It’s a new way of thinking for me. For so many who attended the workshop.
Norm Kunc was funny, entertaining, challenging.
That night I attended a dinner where he presented the keynote. He talked more about his story. He told about the reason why inclusion of individuals with disabilities is so vital and why it is so personally important to him. Not only did the decision to include him in general education beginning in grade 8 change the course of his own life, but he told of 2 of his classmates who were also moved to a general education setting at the same time. Norm and these other 2 students went on to live very successful lives: college, marriage, children, success, happiness, fulfillment.
But he told of a 4th classmate from his special school whose parents made the decision not to transfer to general education. Norm said this student’s parents were scared of trying to include her in a regular school. She stayed in a segregated setting for her schooling. And as a result, her life went very, very differently than Norm and those other 2 students. This other classmate “graduated” from the special school and didn’t have the experience or skills or diploma to get a fulfilling job. This other student lived with her parents her whole life; this other student never experienced a romantic relationship, marriage, or having children. This other student led a very secluded life, and her life was ended early as her parents in an act of desperation and probably deep depression killed her and themselves.
A very eye-opening comparison. I and several other attendees gasped as we heard how this other student’s life ended.
I don’t pretend to think that this other student’s life story is how all stories end for students who are not included in society. Thankfully they don’t all end in that degree of tragedy. But it sure paints an amazingly sober story! What a comparison. What a tragedy.
The night really could’ve ended there. The story of “that other student” was enough to send all of us attendees out to conquer the world. But Norm went on to present the idea of the problem of disability not being in the lives and bodies of those individuals living life with a disability; instead, the problem is with our society. The problem is in our society. It’s society’s problem. Building a ramp to enable a person to gain access into a building is not just a nice thing to do. It is a way that we as a society have to attempt to fix the problem we have created — a building with an unaccessible flight of stairs. As a society, we act surprised and shocked and disappointed and fearful when someone has a disability. We need to recognize that disabilities are a natural part of life. There will always be disabilities. Whether people have those disabilities from birth, after an accident, or with aging. The problem is not within the disability … the problem is in how we respond (or don’t respond) to the fact and the presence of disability.
Norm Kunc also pointed out that his disability doesn’t limit his life. He challenged people who feel sorry for him or think of his life as less — less fulfilling, less meaningful, less fun, less important. Instead, he pointed out with humor that he’s glad he’s not ordinary! He wondered why people would even think that he wishes to be ordinary. He is happy; he is fulfilled; he is successful; he is loved; he is amazingly inspiring; and he has a disability.
We all really did leave that meeting feeling like we were ready to go out and change our world! We were so intrigued and inspired and encouraged. I have heard several people who attended that night say they didn’t sleep for thinking of the ideas that Norm had stirred in us.
But I was left wishing that many more people had been there to hear Norm. The truth is, he was talking to a roomful of folks who already agreed with him. I was wishing the room was bigger … and fuller … and that our society was getting more enlightened by Norm’s words.
I am honored to have been able to listen to Norm. What a day!
Again, I encourage you to peruse his website and read all you can. And certainly if you ever get the opportunity to attend one of his speaking engagements, go, Go, GO!