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8. The Death of DEI
  • Writer's pictureAntonio Da Veiga Rocha

Differently Abled, Super-Powerful

While working for a state health department some years ago, I had the pleasure of being introduced to a person of ‘super abilities’. This was how she described herself. A term she coined to style her personality and way of being. It was a title I found to be a game changer in my way of understanding abilities and power.

Viewing the World Differently

When I met her, this young lady who many had thought would not even graduate high school, was in her final year of her university degree. The team I was working with at the time had asked her to be a speaker at a youth conference we were organizing. Upon first meeting her, I admit, I viewed her through a lens of ignorance. I could think only about the drawbacks I felt she was carrying; my witlessness and biases were active. But what I would have once called 'her difficulties' she called her superpowers. What I saw as slow movement on her part, she saw as fine-motion matrix hovering, what I noticed as a speech impairment, she saw as a more advanced form of communication (multilayered and multileveled), what I took to be learning disabilities, she saw as holding intricate learning landscapes. Indeed, in her view and practice of the world she held superpowers.

Sometimes we are reminded that the way we live, the way we carry our understandings, can be a limitation. How often have we heard of incredible feats done by individuals who find themselves in extraordinary situations? We hear of them having to view their conditions through different mental arrangements so as to widen their landscapes of what is possible so as to get out of the ‘impossible’. Because we build environments to fit our abilities, we tend to have a very general and common way of challenging what we deem extraordinary. It’s not often we are asked to think of how differently things can be and how such differences ultimately challenge our capacities; therefore, stretch our abilities (possibly into super-abilities).

A Benefit for All

The young superhero I mention above is such an example, a superpower holder. She is someone that through her circumstances has opened, and allowed the opening, of other possibilities. As such, she exposes herself daily to a world we keep in the peripheral. Her perspectives take her on journeys of the type we often close ourselves to. Journeys she is compelled to maximize and pull from whenever possible. But the awareness she explores doesn’t just build her powers, they have the ability to build our collective forces, but only if allow them to!

One of the many benefits Differently Abled individuals have is the perspective mentioned above, the ability to reach the peripherals and give more attention to such parameters. Imagine the ability to view your environment through the slow-motion matrix she described having, noticing slight accents others miss, feeling energies from others that most of us ignore. These are all the powers she mentioned having. I was in awe of such abilities, and most of us would be.

But of course, I speak here of a positive interaction, one that empowered the two of us into a collaboration of differences by first acknowledging such a moment and secondly attending to it in a considerate way. Unfortunately, so many of the differently abled among us speak of contrary moments, when their insights are dismissed, worse even, ridiculed. They speak of the inability of others to empathize, let alone join in that incredible space of such differences.

The Fear that Distances Us!

One of the sayings that is currently heard in the Hollywood superhero narratives of late is that we fear the unknown, the incomprehensible; the line more directly says: we fear that which we don’t understand. Yet through such awareness, and challenges, the superheroes go on to follow their hearts and devoted minds, pressing on under the weight of the collective ridicule to save our common world. There are lessons to be learned here. Despite the ridicule so many of our superheroes go through, they go on with their searches, studying the acuteness we generally ignore, and then bring it back to us for moments of awe.

I have long worked with youth and adults with special abilities, but meeting this superhero was the first time I was introduced to the concept of superpowers, powers beyond my current limitations. I realized that I had always sought to work with such persons through my own experiences, hoping to provide them the parameters our general society works from so they may ‘function’ inside our fears. I never really saw my daily environment as a limited landscape, and that the fears that monitors us is one that also controlled my actions with them; it is very likely, I conferred such limitations onto them.

An Interesting Life Twist

It was around the time of meeting this incredible being that I was fortunate enough to have one come into my life, my daughter. She is also a differently abled individual who also views the world through a myriad of lenses. Her landscape so far has filled mines with nuances and awareness I never imagined possible, and as she grows the parameters stretch further and further into supernatural abilities. I hope she will recognize her powers as those that hold a certain level of uniqueness, that her abilities stretch beyond our gated ones, and that one day she too will surprise others as I was surprised by this particular superhero of ours.


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