Public Speaker on disability awareness for hire

For over 13 years, I have been doing trainings on disability awareness
on the local and national level. I have conducted workshops for many
different groups including:

§  parents

§  public schoolteachers

§  students from 6th grade up to college level

§  nonprofit agency directors

§  government leaders and professionals

My trainings are interactive and last between 45-80 minutes. I can
train on a variety of topics relating to disability including:

§  communication skills with people with disabilities

§  history of the disability rights movement

§  disability policies

§  how to make your agency more friendly to people with disabilities

§  disability and sexuality/culture

§  and many other topics

In the coming months, I will have a lot of free time and was wondering
if any agency or community group could use my services. I can tailor
my training to your specific need and audience If you’re interested,
please feel free to contact me at jlesner@aol.com. Also feel free to
pass this information on to interested parties.

My rates are flexible. Typically I charge $100 for an hour an half workshop and $25 for an hour of consulting, but I will work with anyone price range.

Thanks and have a
great day.

Top ten impolite things to say to a person with a disability

10.. I didn’t realize you could do__
9. What keeps you going in life?
8. You must know what my sister feels like she has (name of disability
7. Can you hear me (said to a low vision person0
6. You give me so much hope.
5. I think it’s great your happy and smiling.
4. What does he/she want to eat
3. Can I try to heal you.
2. Maybe when I a, comfortable around your type of people, we can hang out.
1. Your not like other people with disabililies

28 going on 17

“Jacob you look so sexy tonight” my friend said one night in January as she grabbed my face pilling me in for a kiss. My name and the word sexy sounded so strange together that I made her tell me again. “Come on”, “I thought no one calls a guy with Cerebral Palsy ‘Sexy ,” and then French kisses him. That would be like calling Donald Trump a socialist , or hating the taste of watermelon, pn a hot summer day.  These things like calling people with disabilities attractive are never spoken in the English language.

 

For me 2011, was a year of hearing sentences that I thought that would never be spoken. While on a a trip to Sacramento with my grad program, I heard “Jacob come out and party with us tonight. I had already gotten in bed , believing from past experience that no one my age wanted to escort a “cripple” to a nightclub.

 

However, just like the tracks I danced to that night, new sentences started reaching my drum. “Hey Jake I think I have a friend for you’,   and “Want to have diner and a movie Friday night”,  were two of my favorites    I also developed a new sentences too talking about   “ awesome parties” and “great make out session ”

 

At 28 I feel that I experiencing all the things and knowledge  that is most often,  associated with 17 year old. I thought that I never have a social life and would  never hear those phrase of friendship, excitement and connection .   While I don’t what happened to case my increase  of social activity prayer to goods and goddess  ”  , luck, or a shot confidence, I do know it like the song says “And it feels like I’m 17 again,.’ .

The Adventures of a Hippie with a Disability in Corporate America

Ahh the resume!  A document consisting of one or two pieces of paper that tell the story of you job history. Write a good one and you could be on your way to fame and fortune, or at least money to by a microwave burrito for dinner. The resume should be treated differently then one of the coupons that folks pass out outside Pizza Hut. You know the ones offering a free drink with you pie.

However last weekend I saw resumes being treated like pizza coupons while I was attending this conference on disability and employment in San Jose. The conference was attended by people with disabilities as well as hiring mangers representing Fortune 500 companies. When  I was standing in line waiting to register for this conference, the person in front of me handed their resume to the person at the registration table as casually as one would slip a  coupon to someone pashing by. “This must be a fluke,” I thought to myself “are people that anxious to advertise their credentials?” Two minutes later I had my answer when I saw another person pass their resume to the volunteer who was helping direct people to the shuttle buses taking us to the conference site.    Later when I saw attendees give their resume to someone who was on his way to the bathroom, I began to realize that I that had entered a world that I had never previously encountered..

 

Fresh from the shock of seeing what I thought was aggressive resume thrusting , I had my own  resume reviewed by guy who said he been in the disability community for twenty years . After five minutes with me, he says, “Do you know you have a functional  resume” in that tone doctors use  for telling someone they have cancer. Of course, I knew what kind of resume I had and  47 people had seen my resume and thought it was great. “Well you need do a lot of work on it”, he says.   “By the way it says you worked for DREDF, I don’t know anything about them”.  DREDF is the Disability  Rights Education and Defense Fund and is one of the most prominent disability rights organizations in the country.

 

After hearing from the disability “expert “about my résumé,  I attended the large group session that was starting.  First up were two student “ambassadors” from past events there to help guide new attendees through the workshops. In their remarks these ambassadors talked about their school, employment goals, hometowns and everything, under the sun except their disabilities.  I was dumbfounded that they did not bring up the central theme of the conference.

However, as the afternoon continued, I realized that some of the attendees saw disability as a deficit  rather then as a positive . During a session on disability disclosure, there was no information given about  the legal recourse one could take if an employer discriminated against a person with a disability . One of the attendees with an obvious disability asked about how to “hide my disability”.  The speakers consoled him and offered tips in avoiding the subject in interviews. At the conference, there was nothing spoken about taking pride in one’s disability.  Instead  the message was “you need to show employers how your ability outweighs your  disabilities.”

After the afternoon session ended at 5, we were driven back to the hotel where we were required to dress in jackets and ties and attend dinner with representatives from big companies like Microsoft, Goggle and Wal-Mart. We were only given 20 minutes to change which  is unheard of at disability events where there is often a 1 to 2 hour break for getting ready. While I’m changing into my suit, I stated thinking that a lot of people I know did not have the money to buy these clothes or pay for transportation to the conference,  Transportation costs were not reimbursed by the conference organizers..  Should it be a requirement to have money for fancy clothes and plane tickets in order to connect with these companies?

I ponder these facts as I head to the banquet room at the hotel where the evening speaker gives a lecture on good table manners. As a person with limited use of my hands, who already struggles with table manners , having a lecture on etiquette  that is created for able-bodied people feels like a kick in a gut.

Yet throughout dinner and the whole conference, none of the attendees complain about anything.   Even as the buses are 45 minutes late in departing the hotel for the conference site the next morning, not a murmur of frustration is heard. Instead, I hear the sharing of resumes, attendees  boosting about their job qualifications to sleepy-eyed  company representatives and silence.

By far the saddest thing about the conference was the reluctance of attendees to interact with each other. It seemed like some of people were there only to connect with employers and no one else.  Unlike most disability conference where an air of family and kinship develops  among the attendees, I felt like their was little interest in building that type of community

I know some of you are thinking, “Jake you are really naive about how the business world operates.  Your story  is old news”. While it’s true that I am more  conferrable in a work environment where the goal is to help people rather than to make money,, I am worried that folks will feel forced into losing their identity as a person with a disability in order to make it in corporate Americana. There are many great models that  I’ve seen that prepares people for work while still letting  them engage with disability culture and pride. As an advocate, it hurts me to hear that some people feel pressure to fake it in order  to make it as one woman said she was doing to land a job. What good is having a conference about disability employment if attendees do not feel comfortable in taking pride in their disabilities?

Beware of a drug named pity

“Oh man I would love to stay for the meeting but I think I should go lie down.” It’s a Wednesday afternoon in a hot and dark conference room at the Hilton and I’m in the midst of trying to protect my reputation. Two consults that have disabilities are getting ready to present a study that suggests that young people with disabilities have trouble understanding how Social Security and Medicare work. The committee I am on has paid these women a few thousand dollars to figure out this “shocking” piece of information. Rather than risk going off on a “gee you people in the ivory towers need money to figure this out?“ rant, I go to my room shaking my head in utter disbelief .

It’s not like I wouldn’t relish the chance to mock these speakers to their face, it’s just that my mouth had gotten me in trouble enough that week. I am at a conference of people who run support programs for students with disabilities in institutions of higher education, and I’m doing my best to annoy everyone. After about half the room walked out or laughed at a presentation about mental health services, I asked people why our community was so scared of discussing mental health.  Then I asked a nationally known presenter one question too many (( i only  asked him two questions) and was told he would happy to talk with me if I paid him a consultant fee of $250 an hour. Combine this interaction with my Zen-like passion for talking about sex and disability and you get a guy who will never get a key note speaker or a high priced consultant job because he does not know how to shut up.

As I try to make amends for my radicalism by leaving Wednesday’s meeting early, I spot another committee member, Sammy, in his three piece suit sitting silently. In fact, for the week Sammy sat silently through the whole conference, only speaking to remind presenters “to listen to everyone’s voice and to do something to inspire the next generation,” along with other lines crafted by Hallmark.  After these Hallmark moments  Sammy gets “ohh” and “you’re so right” from the proper disability advocates in business suits, while I get Joyce in a tie-dye shirt telling me about her time in Berkley in the 60s.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate Joyce’s stories of campus activism, but I secretly want the men in ties and the women in high heels saying, “here’s my card I might have something for you“ rap that Sammy gets.  Try as I might, I can’t rival the blindness of Sammy, who makes Larry King look like the most outspoken guy on the planet. 

My friends at the conference are unaware of Sammy’s ability to conduct himself as a moderate politician at every session. For example, one day a group of us are having lunch and talking about papers we are writing for school. When Sammy’s turn comes, he turns bright red and whispers that he is writing about how youth learn about sex. The way he whispers and his explanation that his instructor wouldn’t let him out of writing the paper sends shirks of laughter around the table. Poor Sammy must have been worried that one of the people in business suits might see him talking about sex education in public.

A few months later, I am with Sammy at a conference and another disability rights leader asks him “are you a super crip?” Just like the talk at the restaurant this question leaves Sammy flustered. He shrugs his shoulders and comes out with some rationale about how people perceive him to be one but he really is not. The leader and I both exchange knowing glances, yes Sammy is a  of the , in fact he might be the king of the group.

For those lost in the last paragraph, a super crip is a person who believes that any challenges they face as a disabled person can be overcome by their will to succeed . Many of them reject the notion that society discriminates against people with disabilities. If a person is being mistreated then they fix their situation by trying harder.

Some super crips believe that the disabled community is partly to blame for not giving people enough incentives to reach their goals. Sammy often alludes to being the only one wanting to help people reach their goals, while others in the community are content to baby the person. In the mind of super crips, self-reliance is the ultimate goal. One organization, the National  Federation of the Blind, has even sought to remove yellow strips from the edge of train platforms, arguing that blind people should be able to tell when they’re about to become “human road kill” for trains.

While it’s fine to believe in these ideals personally (and dream of a day when your safety is put at risk), super crips generally find avenues to share their message of positivity and individual reliance with the world.  I was at a conference last month and a man who was about 3 foot 5, with no hands spoke about the discrimination he faced during his life. His message was simple “if you don’t succeed with getting somebody to see your potential, keep trying because someone always will.”

Come again? So if one of my friends is blind and employers can’t understand that she is capable of doing a job, she should continue her quest till she finds her employer “soul mate?” What happened to using the ADA or getting some disability advocates to point out that this is discrimination. No employer should be able to wallow in their own ignorance because there is always a more “open mined person out there.”

Why do I have this feeling that California Governor Jerry Brown’s office is trying to contact this man right now. “Hey disabled people who need in home help, there is always an attendant who is willing to work for crappy wages and few hours. Hey maybe that attendant will like it so much, they will be willing to spend extra hours with you for free. If you can’t find that attendant you just keep looking because there’s one out there for you.”

The thought that this guy gets paid to deliver a feel good message of self-reliance is particularly scary when our services are under attack. It is disconcerting that some business leaders benefit greatly when our services get fed this piece of feel good crap, or when our community doesn’t shut him down.

Like this man, Sammy has offers to speak to these non-disabled audiences. While I have not seen him speak, based on my interactions with him the message is most likely on self reliance and dreams, stuff that is easy to stomach by the black suits coming up to him at meetings. However, Sammy and “find the right person” guy are going to find out that self reliance won’t help if airlines can refuse to accommodate wheelchairs, or if new hotels can be built without wheelchair accessible rooms.  See, the Americans with Disabilities Act was put in place by a community of people, and can be taken away by another group of people. By talking about self reliance you may be helping to eliminate the laws that give you the opportunity to speak.

However, there is hope for all the super crip speakers out there through the unlikeliest of men, Christopher Reeve. In the book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes about a corporate speakers event where he saw Reeve. Speaker after speaker talked about individual pride and wealth accumulation. When Reeve spoke, he warned the crowd about being so caught up in the game of making money that you forget to see others as sources of support. Reeve admitted that he had isolated himself from others after his accident and didn’t think he could repair the damage. The speech confused and angered some in the crowd, but it was nice that he began to admit that he turned away from a community that needed him.

Over the years I have thought, like Reeve, that I don’t need a disability community, but then I remember that people still see me as different. Last night I was on the bus and a man asked me for help. As I was answering he said, “sorry I didn’t know you can’t talk or walk good.” That comment was annoying, stupid, and hurtful. I must turn to my community for support to make sure others don’t face this crap. If I was to follow Mr. Super Crip’s advice I might still be on the street looking for a city bus that doesn’t have idiots as passengers.  

Being Disabled in a World of “Lady Gaga Diversity”

It’s a bright sunny day in San Francisco as I walk up a hill to a posh Glen Park house. Man, I had been looking forward to this afternoon for months. I had become involved in the cuddle party movement. For those not hip to this Californian term, a cuddle party is where you pay $30 and snuggle in PJ’s for about two and a half hours.

At these parties there are “cuddle guidelines,” which the “cuddle coach” goes over after the introductions. Most of those guidelines have to do with making sure people don’t remove their PJ’s and that no one spills water on the mat. Then there is a rule about no one being forced to cuddle with anybody they don’t want to.

As a fat guy with glasses I am pretty sure some people in the room will use that rule and avoid me throughout the afternoon.  I knew that a number of people at the event looked like they walked out of a J-Crew catalog and wanted to mingle with the people who stepped out of the Tommy Hillfinger catalog. But I thought there must be one or two souls who think that beauty is skin deep and mosey over to my fat ass of intellectual wit.

Boy, was I wrong! Immediately after the cuddle rules and the start of the party everyone had a partner to cuddle with, except me. People were pairing up five and six on the mat, but I was frowned at when I tried to enter group cuddle space. Like a man who went alone to a prom, I sat on the sideline waiting for my chance to break in. That never came.

As people were cuddling, a similar reframe in conversion happened. “Dude, have you tried this restaurant? It’s really out there,” this guy said to his friend. Meanwhile a woman was talking about her new crush “Steve”  who she liked because he’s so open-minded.  Then there was a woman named Amy who kept telling everyone that she  moved from Kansas because people in the Bay Area are so comfortable with people’s differences.

So let me get this straight, the people who smiled and laughed nervously when I spoke in my CP accent are now professing to be accepting. So is Jeff, who agrees to take me home, and tries to convince me that everyone who ignored me at the party, loved me. “I just don’t see what you’re complaining about. Jill said she welcomes people with disabilities to her events. Look, her house is stair free,” he says.  I change the subject  because no matter what I say Jeff is a proud believer in a term I like to call “Lady Gaga diversity.”

For those readers who are older or haven’t watched MTV since the days when they played videos, Lady Gaga is a pop star –a sort of Cher for the 21st century. She sings a bunch of pop songs, some of them I love. However, she has this aura about her which attracts millions of followers. The aura being, she’s all about love.

“I really hate money,”  Lady Gaga yelled from stage at her show in Madison Square Garden (fine, if you hate money then don’t charge people for your concerts).  She also preaches being comfortable in your own skin, but never goes out in public without having some off the wall fashion on. Millions of people follow her every move and claim to be believers in love and acceptance.

It is my belief that there are a lot of people who practice Lady Gaga diversity in the Bay Area and beyond. To me, people who practice Lady Gaga diversity like to go around pretending they do no have any biases or stereotypes, but then when they see somebody like myself or with another disability, they become uncomfortable.

In today’s politically correct world, it’s  often impossible for someone to honestly say they’re uncomfortable socializing with people with disabilities. However at many events I have been invited to, a smiling, panicked face greets me from strangers. When I then try to make conversion or crack a joke, I am met with 30 seconds of awkward silence, until someone abruptly changes the subject. I often want to wear a t-shirt listing all of my accomplishments so that people know I’m not part of the home décor.

While it may be difficult to get an accomplishment t-shirt for all persons with disabilities, a simple poster could be hung announcing this party is “welcoming to people with disabilities.” People who see this poster can tell that the hosts at this party know to ask to repeat, are comfortable with and will make an effort to include guests  in the conversation and perform other needed tasks to make the disabled person feel comfortable. We have “safe space materials ” already for LBQT folks,  so we could expand the concept to include people with disabilities. The signs could even talk for blind people.

Until we have the “safe space posters” people like myself love when we can get a little honest communication happening in a  society filled with Lady Gaga  diversity.  I remember when I called up a woman whose ad I saw online for body work and was told, “I try to make it a point not to talk to someone with speech problems.” Even though her comment was harsh, at least is was more direct than the hostess who smiles unconformably when I knock at the door.

Several of my friends with disabilities have gotten so tired of Lady Gaga diversity that they have stopped socializing  with able-bodied people. These friends are big disability advocates, and while I get how they’re tired of a society where many people practice Lady Gaga diversity, it’s still a shame that their activism doesn’t translate into social spaces. I think our next step as a community is to create a world where people with disabilities can go into any bar or party in the U.S.  and know they will not have to deal with the stares  and whispers that come from folks who are uncomfortable with them. While that day might seem like a pipe dreams, it will come sooner than later if people abandon Lady Gaga diversity and start being honest about their feelings.

Dancing the Night Away

It’s Saturday Night.  I’m in a San Francisco club dancing the night away with a woman named Liz who I find attractive and fun. But I’m not exactly having fun.  My attention is on the clock.  I’m thinking about MIDNIGHT, the hour when I would miss the BART train home and, like Cinderella, be stranded in a cold and lonely city. 

An hour ago, two of my friends asked Liz if they could stay over in the city at her place.  She’d grinned and said, “Sure.”  Now, my heart is pushing me—Ask her, ask her!  But, in my head, the evil stepmother, is saying “This is one ballroom where you will never dance.”  

I’m a guy with a disability, my hands are hard to control and my muscles tend to jerk in the middle of tasks requiring fine motor skills.  So, I can be a messy person, I can leave my belongings everywhere, spill water when I shower, and get the jam from the toast all over my face. Although I try to curtail these behaviors when I am staying with someone, I am always afraid that people will see the reality of how disabled I am in some areas.  If I let anyone see my true self, I expect judgment to rear its ugly head.  I’m afraid they would never speak to me again.

Am I Cinderella?  My friends must think so.  They’re like people at the palace ball, left staring after that person fleeing down the BART escalator, asking why?  I’ve even made arrangements the day before to stay overnight with someone, only to feel my cold feet, make excuses and run.

The reason I run so much is that I’m scared to ask for help.  And, I don’t want to let people see me fail at a task that able-bodied people are supposed to be able to do. One time in the dorms at my college, I spilt laundry soap in the hallway, as two females pointed and laughed at me.  I’ve been asked if I make Origami by store clerks who notice how I stuff my money in my wallet.  These experiences from strangers hurt, but the pain would be more extreme if these words came from a friend.  In the past few years, I’ve noticed I have lost touch with some old friends and I can’t help but wonder if they felt uncomfortable with certain aspects of my disability.

There’s another thing, I like that my life extends beyond the disability sub-culture, but sometimes I feel like a token disabled person.  I’m not a representative for all people with disabilities and I don’t want that kind of spotlight.

It gives me so much relief when able–bodied friends talk about their experiences with disabled folks. When they open up about past experience with disability, I feel comforted knowing that if I drop a pea off my plate or spill a glass of water, it’s not the end of the world. One person even flirted me with me on a date, by offering to wipe my face (and that was one sensual napkin!).

While having an attractive women wipe my face is cool, just having someone who is understanding and accepts my limitations, ends my Cinderella impulse and allows me to keep dancing the night away.