Those who know me know that I don’t dwell on the things I can’t do. However, when the world makes it nearly impossible to do some of the things I CAN do, that is when I get frustrated. Here are some of those things…
I’ll start with the one that made me think about this topic again. 12 South Farmers Market Peach Fest. First, you have to understand that I love peaches, perhaps more than any other person on the planet. I was born in a state second only to California in peach production—and it may not be the state you think. I love fresh peach pie on my birthday (or any time!), peaches and oatmeal for breakfast, and peaches served almost any way. You would think having a Peach Fest in a park not far from my home today would be cause for celebration. You would be wrong. You see, I went to the first Peach Fest in 2015 with my mother and two friends. We had a good time. My mom and I returned the following year minutes after opening—only to find the handicap spaces full with people parked illegally and no other options for parking our oversized van. So back home we went. Getting out is no easy effort. It takes planning and can test my endurance. So to go back home disappointed and empty-handed was…well, there are no words. At least I had none left to say. It was a quiet trip home.
Since then I have tried sending emails to the organizers, posted on their social media, sent them private messages. I have NEVER received even one response. The most kindness I received was from a vendor who makes wonderful pies, who expressed her sympathy and said that she hopes to open her own pie shop and make it accessible to people with disabilities. Our world truly needs more people like this.
Today is Peach Fest AGAIN, and I’m not going. Fortunately there is an accessible fruit and vegetable market down the street that has wonderful peaches. We may get some of them and have our own celebration. (Thanks to a sweet friend for letting me know they carry peaches from my favorite state.)
Now for the issue that truly tugged at my heart for a long time. I can handle stares from people because I look different. I don’t mind answering questions about my disability because that’s how people learn. The one thing you don’t get warned about is the silent and unprovable discrimination you encounter. I was fortunate to have parents who valued education. I was fortunate to have a university in my city that made numerous accommodations so that I could go to classes, a mom who drove me back and forth each day and spent more time in the library than I did searching for books I needed for papers I needed to write. After six years, I had a graduate degree and was ready to take on the world. Well, STOP. You see, I was unprepared for a world that didn’t look past my disability. I thought teaching would be a field where people would be more open in addition to being something well-suited to my skills. I had interviews. I worked as a substitute and didn’t get calls back to any of the schools except the one I attended, as some of the teachers knew me and what I was capable of. It was so discouraging because I always knew one thing: I wanted to work very badly, and that should have been enough. I became a part-time substitute teacher for the school down the road and a part-time tutor, as self-employment was my best and only apparent option. I enjoyed the years I spent teaching. In hindsight, all the more because my disability progressed and I can no longer do those things. (Honestly, the thought that one day I might not be able to work never occurred to me.)
Looking back, I don’t think any of the people I encountered purposefully treated me different because of my disability. So part of my purpose in writing this is to ask you, my readers, to be open to the fact that people with disabilities do have something valuable to contribute to the word. We want to be part of it. If you encounter a person with a disability, know they don’t want to be treated as an inspiration or something extra special. They just want to be given the same opportunities as everyone else. We just sometimes need a little extra help from you to get there, whether it’s an open mind or a willingness to see the things that unintentionally make our world a little smaller.
Hello. My name is Sharon Kantanie. I'm 51 years old. I have an extremely rare disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. I believe in courage, kindness, and other things. Welcome to my little home on the world wide web where I hope to share information on the Kindness Matters Challenge, my life, and the things that matter most to me.