Wednesday, October 10, 2012

31/21: Unreasonable Canadians—Norm Kunc

A number of years ago, when I was working on a training program for youth advocates promoting healthy and active living for people with disabilities, I came across a great resource developed by Advocating ChangeTogether (ACT). One of their units was based on the quote by George Bernard Shaw (excuse the male-centric, and more than just slightly human-centric language):
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
The point was to show self-advocates why they needed to be “unreasonable” to change systems and advocate for their rights. ACT gave great examples—such as Rosa Parks, who was so unreasonable that she wouldn’t move to the back of the bus and give a white person her seat; and Ed Roberts, who was so unreasonable that he thought he had a right to go to college even though the University of California told him “we tried cripples and it didn’t work.”

I think we all need unreasonable role models and need to make sure that our children know that they have every right to question authority; that compliance is not the always the gold-star expectation (more on that in another blog post). Here in Canada, where in many ways we are behind our U.S. neighbours in terms of entrenching disability rights into law, we have a great and wonderful tribe of under-celebrated unreasonable people. People such as Norm Kunc, Jack Pearpoint, Judith Snow, Jean Vanier, Dave Hingsburger, Bonnie Sherr Klein, Alan Shain, and Catherine Frazee (to name a few) who are recognized internationally for their insights and work advocating for disability rights and inclusion.

During October, I will share a few of my favorites with you, hoping that bits of their thoughts and writings will challenge and change you, as they have me.

I’d like to start with Norm Kunc, whose writing challenged me to think completely differently about inclusion and “helpers.” Particularly his articles Integration: Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic, where he moves just slightly outside the dominant narrative to show why advocating for integration based purely on “reasonable” arguments just won’t work and does a great disservice to each individual and community of learners; and Hell Bent on Helping—Benevolence, Friendship, and the Politics of Help, where he deconstructs the relationship between those helping and those who are supposedly being “helped.”

Norm and his wife Emma Van der Klift have been working together for more than 30 years, advocating for the rights and full inclusion of people with disabilities in schools, workplaces, and communities. A number of years ago they produced a powerful video that I used for many years in workshops and school meetings.

I dare you to watch this video and not be changed radically—in the true sense of the word, right at the root. Be patient. Watch it. Sit with it. And let me know what you think.

A Credo for Support

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