All day Sunday it niggled away at me. The 3rd of July. In that irritating manner thoughts have when you know you're supposed to remember something but can't quite pin down what it is. I couldn't remember anyone's birthday I'd forgotten and as it was a sunday I definitely hadn't forgotten a hospital appointment..but still it was there...sitting directly underneath the Mr Tumbles earworm I ingested on saturday. Shouting "Hello, hello, how are you...Hello, hello, you forgot me"
Saturday was an incredible day. I was invited to speak at the 100 Voices conference held by The Brandon Trust, a south-west charity which supports people with learning disabilities. It was held in Bristol, so after all the trauma of inaccessible hotels, wheelchair launching and being shut in a cupboard it's fair to say I was a tad nervous about travelling alone. As it was Bristol I was able to take the BendyVan on it's first road trip and have the BendyBus with me to get about, so at least I was fairly confident I wouldn't get shut in any cupboards I couldn't at least ram my way out of.
The Premier Inn I stayed in wasn't exactly accessible..but frankly my standards are low and I was just happy not to have to go on a pallet lift. The fact that there was no disabled parking available and that I couldn't get through any of the doors, just merged into the existing nightmares I'm having about burning to death locked in a cupboard. I consoled myself with the fact that I was at least on the ground floor and attempted to put the reported murders and window that I couldn't reach to shut properly out of my mind. The fact that the staff were so friendly and helpful did go some way to making up for the hassle, but really, in the 21st century is it too much to ask that a lone crip campaigner not need to flash her cleavage at friendly builders to get them to open hotel doors?
Fortunately after all that stress, the 100 Voices conference proved the perfect antidote. It was the happiest, most inspiring event I've ever been to and I came away feeling part of a huge family of disabled people. I was pretty nervous about my speech as it was the first time I've ever spoken infront of an audience like that, but it was great fun. Billy, Pat and Ann who helped me out were absolute stars...and within 30 seconds of being on stage I knew they were in complete control of where the presentation was going...I was just along for the ride. If anyone would like to see there are photos available here and there will be a dvd. Thank you to all the people who watched the conference through my blog!
After a much needed sleep I went to stay with friends in Birmingham and spent the sunday there before heading home wondering why I'd been talking so much about the process of becoming disabled and my feelings about it. I haven't driven so far in many years, especially unaccompanied and I was feeling proud of myself and all the people I'd met the day before; pride in being part of the most fantastic community in the world, proud of the way all sick and disabled people pull together to help each other and the lengths that we will all go to to ensure that people we don't actually know are safe and supported. Pride in having made it through the last 13 years alive, relatively sane and intact. Pride in my new life and new world.
So yesterday, when I finally remembered why the 3rd of July is important to me it seemed fitting to have spent the day remembering my old world and feeling proud of my new one. Our community is incredible, loving, supportive and safe and I literally could not be prouder to be a part of it.