It seems I’m invisible


The Disabled Access Friendly team first met Adrian Tennant at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool, 2013.  Adrian expressed his support of the campaign and kindly agreed to write a worksheet for the campaign.  This is how his lesson plan came about.  It had an impact before it was even written and published.

E-mail diary of creating a lesson plan for Disabled Access Friendly
From: Adrian Tennant
To: Disabled Access Friendly

I'm still in China and will be leaving at the end of the week. The Friday before last I went out to try to interview a lady who wheels herself around on a homemade cart (looks a bit like a squat skateboard). Unfortunately, she wasn't in any of her usual haunts, but I'm going out with a Chinese colleague tonight to see if we can find her. I'm not sure if she'll agree to be interviewed, but if she is it'll make for a really interesting worksheet.

The attitude in China is rather odd. They have special schools for blind kids, and certainly seem to take some disabilities quite seriously and seem to have a degree of awareness. But when it comes to mobility issues ... forget it! There's no social welfare net, it's up to families to look after their own and the net result is lots of beggars who have been left to fend for themselves.
Let's see what happens tonight.

From: Adrian Tennant
To: Disabled Access Friendly

We managed to find the woman last night and she was kind enough to give us an interview. My interpreter was almost crying at the end.

You said you wanted to shock people / shake them, well I hope I can help with that along with inspirational people like Cai Shuxiang.

I'm going to forward an email I just received from my interpreter, Joe Du, when it arrives in my inbox (came through on my Blackberry first) as it'll show you what impact it has already had.

Thank you for asking me to help. Every little bit counts.

From: Joe Du
To: Adrian Tennant

Last night’s experience was extraordinary and unforgettable. I shared the experience and my feeling through my social media. Lots of friends told me they were so touched by the story and they would like to help Miss Cai and people like her in whatever way they can contribute. So I shall say thank-you for giving this opportunity to help you in this way otherwise I may not think of talking to people like Miss Cai the way we did yesterday.

From: Adrian Tennant
To: Disabled Access Friendly

You’ll be pleased to hear that after Joe talked about his experience on social media in China the response from people has been overwhelming! It looks like we've already had an impact on the attitudes of many young people in the country :-) I've sent the text to Joe and asked him to translate it and give a copy to Cai Shuxiang as I think she should know what I wrote in the end.

Adrian asked Joe if he would write an account of the experience

From: Joe Du
To: Disabled Access Friendly

It was a hot and humid summer again in Chongqing. People kept their hustling and bustling life as usual. Chongqing is the largest municipality in mainland China with beautiful and modern skyline in the city, however, it also has more than 2/3 of population from the rural area.

One day our trainer Adrian asked me whether I could do him a favour after work and said it was about the writing of teaching material for people with physical disability. I told Adrian I was very happy to help on that since personally I am firm believer on “equal opportunity and diversity” and I am the champion of leading this area in my own organisation. However, when Adrian told me the task was to help him interview a lady with disability in the pedestrian street, I hesitated. My first reaction was, “will she agree to do the interview from a foreigner? How shall I communicate with her?” But anyway, I thought it was something meaningful worth doing so I told Adrian “let’s try”.

We tried to find the lady on the first night but she was so invisible in the pedestrian street which was fully packed with people. After half an hour, we gave it up. Adrian and I agreed to do that again a few days later. The second time we were lucky enough to find Ms Cai. She was so tiny, on her trolley, trying very hard to move in the crowd. To be honest, I’d never noticed her in the pedestrian street in the past two years since I came to this city though I pass by this area almost every day! She is too invisible to be noticed. Or in other words, I’ve never paid attention to her.

I didn’t know how to start the conversation with the lady at the beginning since I never had such experience before. On the contrary, Ms Cai seemed to be quite natural and happily accepted the interview (that surprised me too!) With the interview going, I could not help fall into the personal story Ms Cai was telling. Though I was only doing the interpretation for Adrian, I could feel Ms Cai’s feeling strongly, sad, helpless, but still inspired by the future of her three children, who are her hope!

I had a talk with Adrian after the interview. He asked me ‘how many people with physical disability you can see on the street in Chongqing and do you think it’s barrier-free city?” To be honest, I seldom saw people with physical disability except those living with begging. The society hasn’t provided them with adequate accessibility which allows them to feel free to live a normal life. Even if for the office building I’m working in, which is regarded as one of the best ones in the city, I could not see any wheelchair path designed for the disabled.

I felt very difficult to calm down since the talk with Ms Cai strike me a lot and I felt I had a more in-depth understanding of the situation of people like her. I posted this story immediately through my social network WeChat, getting more than 40 comments one night and many friends reposting this message through their own social network. The followings are some of their quotes:

“I was so touched by this story. Please let us know what we can do for the poor lady.”

“Thanks for sharing. I’m inspired to do more to help those people who need support. I know I can do little but I would like to try my best.”

“After reading the story, I feel we’re living in the heaven. All the challenges I’ve ever come across cannot be compared to those the lady faces at all. We shall not complain too much but cherish the current life.”

“Is there anything we can do for her? Shall we donate money and clothes for her children? Will you organise friends to do something for this lady? “

Adrian’s summing up

From: Adrian Tennant
To: Disabled Access Friendly

Over the years that I’ve been staying in downtown Chongqing I’ve seen Ms Cai almost every evening I’ve gone out – either on my way to the supermarket or when I’ve headed down to the teahouse to play Mahjong. I’ve often dropped some small notes in her bowl and for a long time wanted to talk to her. Meeting Katie and Paul at IATEFL gave me the necessary push to do so.

When I asked Joe to help I could see him hesitate. Watching him during the interview I could see tears very close to the surface. I realised this was an experience that was having a profound affect on him.

For me it was not just about Ms Cai’s story, it was about what would come out of it both in terms of the material on the Disabled Friendly Access website, but also the impact it had on Joe and his friends. Raising awareness is just a start.

Adrian’s lesson can be found here:
Download it for free and open your students’ eyes to issues of mobility disability.  It’s not something invisible.