I published a post here last week about some of the writers I recruited to put together guest posts about love and relationships for Easter Seals (I have a part-time job moderating the Easter Seals national blog). One writer I didn’t mention in that post is the nine-year-old daughter of a health professional I saw eight years ago after I hurt my rotator cuff. This girl was only two years old then, but she remembers visiting her mom’s clinic once when I was there and petting Hanni, my Seeing Eye dog. “She was soft!”
I visited her public school in the suburbs a while back, and she and I have been email pen-pals ever since. She agreed to write a post for the Easter Seals blog about how much she loves her Dad, and after she sent the finished piece my way, I emailed her to let her know I’d be writing a short introduction for it. “Remind me –do you use a walker? A wheelchair?” I asked. “Without being able to see you, I don’t know.”
And here’s where that nine-year-old became the teacher. She wrote back with a question. ”Why do you need to know about how I move? Because this is a Valentine’s Day post and it’s supposed to be about my relationship with my Dad.
I told her I needed to know how she gets around because the place I work –Easter Seals — is an organization that helps people who have disabilities. “So the posts are all about people who have disabilities, or legislation that involves people who have disabilities, or services or treatments that help people who have disabilities.”
I wrote her as if she was an adult. I told her I don’t particularly like thinking of myself as a person with a disability, but my job with Easter Seals pays me. “In general people who are blind have a hard time convincing employers to hire us if we can’t see,” I said, pointing out that over 70% of Americans who are blind are unemployed. “And so, when Easter Seals offered to pay me to moderate their blog, I accepted the job.”
I explained I get paid to lead memoir-writing classes and to write books and articles and make presentations, too, but my Easter Seals job is steady work, and my work writing and doing presentations and leading classes comes and goes. I told her it’s good to have one paycheck to count on week after week, so I accepted the job.
“All to say that I will *totally* understand it if you don’t want me to mention anything about disabilities in my introduction, but if I don’t mention a disability, it won’t qualify to be a post on the Easter Seals blog and they won’t let me publish it there.”
She thought long and hard about all this, and we worked on the introduction together. In the end, the introduction to her post on the Easter Seals blog describes her as an attractive nine-year-old who plays piano, writes stories, and loves to bake. “She has a physical disability that doesn’t stop her from doing anything she wants to do,” the intro says, and that’s absolutely correct! I was happy with the outcome, and even happier to learn a lesson in advocacy from a nine-year-old.
The two of us worked so well together that after her guest post was published on the Easter Seals blog, she asked her mom if she could take a writing class with me. “Not sure how this could work,” her mom wrote. “But she has some time now if you do.” Turns out my young writer is home from school for the next six to eight weeks while they try a casting program — she has casts from her hips down to her ankles, on both legs.
I had time.
My Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I took a train to visit her for our first class a few weeks ago, and after a quick hour of discussing our writing and our goals, I gave her an assignment to write a guest post for our Safe & Sound blog here. Our plan is for her to work on one blog post every week and email it my way when she’s done. I’ll use my talking computer to read through her rough draft, come up with comments and questions, call her every Friday, and we’ll discuss the edits together out loud. She’ll make the revisions she agrees with, email the post back to me, and…voila! This up-and-coming young writer will be published on our Safe & Sound blog. She’s working on revisions to her first piece now. It’s about how she came up with her pen name, and that means you lucky Safe & Sound readers will soon be reading a guest post here written by…DJ Mermaid!