Striding for Inclusion

It’s been a busy week, but alas, as promised, here’s a blog post on running a marathon in a French Maid costume.

15km in. Still loving each stride.

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Some of you know about marathon running. However, a vast majority of you think I’m a strange, strange person. (To gain greater context to this post, you can read Kerr’s (my brother) and my story: http://kilometresforcommunication.com/stories/ )

What possesses me to run marathons? Running is mostly mental. If you’re running to the limits of your ability, there will always be a point in the run when you ask yourself: “why am I doing this?” If you aren’t able to answer this question, your run ends there. For the first 30km I project how lucky I am to be able to move one foot in front of the other, smell, see and feel the world as I do. I would be taking the safety, security and luck of my life for granted by not focusing on the beauty of striding in the moment. The minor discomfort only exists if I perceive and focus on it. I’m running because I can.

The final 10-12km is different. The pain becomes loud and rude. More powerful motivation is needed. I project the people I’ve met who communicate in different ways and their stories, my brother’s story, and all the emotions, frustrations, and memories associated with the misunderstandings and disconnect I’ve witnessed my brother endure. If these Canadians who speak with AAC and my brother can be so resilient, strong, and triumphant; so can I. This is a numbing reminder to my perception that my discomfort is temporary and escapable. I’m running to show my commitment. I’m running to create awareness. My knee doesn’t want to lift. I’m running because I can. My calves are seizing. I’m running because this is the least I can do. I’m running to inspire. Why am I doing this? Can’t I stop? I’m running because I can do something simple that makes a difference. My stomach is going to let loose. I’m running because I love someone. I’m running because I want everyone to know how to include people of all abilities.

Cya

What possessed me to run in a French Maid costume? I would say it comes down to having a powerful motivator in my life (my brother) and a few really good friends with a sense of humour. If I’m going to run for 42km, I’m going to do it for a cause. I better kill two birds with one stone; otherwise, it just wouldn’t seem worth it. Running is a mental battle. It’s easier to run 42km through woods distracted by scenery and the challenge of rocks and roots than it is to stay concentrated and calm kilometres after kilometre on pavement running next to the same people. Wearing a costume helps with that mental battle. People start laughing and cheering. 42km becomes less lonely.

I ran the race in 3 hours, 22 minutes, 30 seconds. I had a bizarre day before the race. My eating was not on schedule, and I didn’t eat my dinner until after 10pm on Saturday night—although I had been carb grazing all day. Shortly after eating, I went to bed. Needless to say, I didn’t digest my meal as I should have. I woke up at 4:30am on Sunday to eat a good breakfast, digest it properly, and have ample unstressed time to change into my French Maid costume. Around the 23km mark, there was no bargaining with my stomach. Sweaty, and in full race gear, I abandoned the sub-3hr pack I was running with and dashed into a Tim Horton’s. I ran through the restaurant, efficiently found the washroom. A couple minutes later I ran back through the restaurant again, back onto the race course, and tried to find my rhythm again with a different pack of runners. Those employees and customers in that Tim Horton’s saw a sight they probably won’t forget for a long time.

How do you work up to running a marathon and prepare for it?

It’s getting late and that’s a whole other blog post. If people are interested, I’ll write a post on preparation.

I’ve saved the most important for last! The clear cut reason I ran a marathon in costume was to create awareness for the different ways people communicate. If you haven’t already, please read and share the following excerpt from my last blog post:

I think that isolation and systemic discrimination can stem from uncertainty. Below are some key points about how to be an agent of inclusion, and how to properly interact with people who communicate differently.

* Be curious. Ask how the person communicates. Give the individual time to respond. Observe what body parts he/she controls, if the person has a communication device, a letter board, or blinks. There are many forms of communication. Engage. Observe. Keep an open mind. Be patient. Be enriched.

* “Ask one question at a time and wait for a reply.” (ACCPC, 2009)

* “Talk directly to the individual, not to the person who may be accompanying him/her.” (ACCPC, 2009)

* Watch for body movement—someone may operate a communication device using his or her head, knee, toes, etc. Don’t walk away if you notice the person using their computer. It may take him/her a minute to assemble their sentence.

* “Speak naturally and clearly, using your normal tone, volume and rate.” (ACCPC, 2009)

* Try to establish a yes and a no—“show me your ‘yes’”. Observe how the person responds.

* “Do not speak about the person or refer to the person in the third person when in his/her presence.” (ACCPC, 2009)

* Always assume ability.

A marathon is unbearable if it’s lonely. So is life. We all run our own races, but we all need some help and companionship to get to the finish line.

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42km to inclusion; if only it were that easy.

A disability is only a disability when a person is hindered by his or her surrounding environment. I want as many people as possible to know how to communicate with people who speak with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). A disability can be a gift just as much as it can be disabling. On Sunday, May 6, 2012, I’ll be running another marathon…perhaps in a costume. Likely in a costume. Almost certainly in a costume. My purpose: to raise awareness. I want to get as many people as possible reading the points below in this post, and learning about how to properly communicate with someone who has a communication disability.

I think that isolation and systemic discrimination can stem from uncertainty. Below are some key points about how to be an agent of inclusion, and how to properly interact with people who communicate differently.

  • Be curious. Ask how the person communicates. Give the individual time to respond. Observe what body parts he/she controls, if the person has a communication device, a letter board, or blinks. There are many forms of communication. Engage. Observe. Keep an open mind. Be patient. Be enriched.
  • “Ask one question at a time and wait for a reply.” (ACCPC, 2009)
  • “Talk directly to the individual, not to the person who may be accompanying him/her.” (ACCPC, 2009)
  • Watch for body movement—someone may operate a communication device using his or her head, knee, toes, etc. Don’t walk away if you notice the person using their computer. It may take him/her a minute to assemble their sentence.
  • “Speak naturally and clearly, using your normal tone, volume and rate.” (ACCPC, 2009)
  • Try to establish a yes and a no—“show me your ‘yes’”. Observe how the person responds.
  • “Do not speak about the person or refer to the person in the third person when in his/her presence.” (ACCPC, 2009)
  • Always assume ability.

I was planning to run this race with a friend named Tien (he communicates using AAC). One thing you need to know about Tien and I: we are divers, full of ambition, and quite determined to make the unrealistic and unexpected work. It didn’t work out this time. The logistics of planning our run together required more planning than the time we had…we came up with the idea and tried to run with it last Sunday. Tien won’t be running with me this Sunday, but expect our collaboration in the future.

Here’s what Tien would like people to hear:

“As being one of hundreds of thousands of AAC users, I would like to see the people in our communities, to provide us accessibility in communication, transportation and education, to try and take time to understand us when we ask for it, and to treat us like any other able bodied individuals. We may, perhaps, look different, act differently and communicate differently, but most of us can think, learn, and interact with the world like ordinary citizens. We need people to realize everyone has a voice of their own, and so do we!” (Hoang, 2012)

To hear more stories and voices of Canadians who speak with AAC, please visit: http://kilometresforcommunication.com/stories/

Here’s a picture of the last race’s costume:

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Photo credit: Jeff Cheah. Click on the photo to see a non-distorted full version. 

Curious about what this race’s costume will look like?

  • Have Facebook? Go on the Kilometres for Communication Facebook page and share the status posted on May 5, 2012 or share the link to this blog on your profile.
  • Have Twitter? Tweet this post.
  • Feel like sending some emails? Please do…with the link to this post. 🙂

Route of the race and timing will be posted later tomorrow on the KM4C Facebook page for anyone eager to witness in person.

I hope that more awareness will be raised, some of you will get a laugh, and that there will be more agents of inclusion making the world a better place. Thanks for reading, and please pass this on!

-Skye

Works Cited

ACCPC. (2009). Communication Access for People Who Have Communication Disabilities. In B. Collier. Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Hoang, T. N. (2012, May 2). (S. Wattie, Interviewer)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Community Partnerships-Canada: http://www.accpc.ca/