For Want of a Word

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to the South Carolina statewide Vision conference: an event hosted by a consortium of programs and agencies that serve the blind and the deaf in South Carolina.  I was asked to talk on the subject of "self-advocacy" for kids with disabilities.  Although my remarks were delivered extemporaneously I thought I might share with the blogosphere one portion of my talk since I suspect that my memory serves me after 24 hours with a modicum of accuracy.

"When I think about the subject of "self-advocacy" for people with disabilities I am reminded of an anecdote from Ronald Reagan’s presidency.  I like Ronald Reagan’s sense of humor and his capacity to get to the heart of the matter.  On this occasion President Regan was hosting for the first time Britain’s Prince Charles in the Oval Office at the White House.  They talked for about 45 minutes about world affairs, about Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, about Gorbachev and the Soviet Union.  Then, all of a sudden, Ronald Reagan looked at Prince Charles and said: "Well, Prince Charles, I notice you haven’t had any of your tea. I thought you fellows liked tea?"  Prince Charles revealed that he’d never seen a tea bag before, and since he didn’t know what to do with it he thought it best to avoid his teacup altogether.

I like this story because it offers an example about the perils of not having self advocacy skills.  You see, in that situation Prince Charles had a kind of disability: he needed that cup of tea and he didn’t know how to ask for help.  This is an example of how the failure of language skills can create a disability where otherwise no disability would exist.  And because Prince Charles didn’t know how to ask for help he had to face a late afternoon without his "cuppa" and as everyone knows, that in turn must have made the Prince grouchy.  So he probably snapped at one of his aids.  He most likely said something unkind at an embassy reception later that evening.  And all this because no one ever taught him how to ask a basic question.  It turns out that everyone needs to have "self-advocacy" skills, and not just people with disabilities.  I also think a better term for "self-advocacy" is "emotional intelligence"–the term that was made popular by Daniel Goleman a few years back…"

Poor Prince Charles.  Because he didn’t know how to handle his tea bag he had a lousy evening.  I even suspect he was short tempered with the Princess.  You see, it’s the small things that sometimes really matter.


Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

0 thoughts on “For Want of a Word”

  1. I thought you’d listen to Peter and Carl! If you’re ever in Chicago on a Thursday night, we could catch a live taping. Very fun.


  2. I love that story about Prince Charles and that’s a great way to think about advocacy and one I hadn’t considered before. Thanks!


  3. We loved having you in South Carolina. It will be great to pull examples from your books to help my students write with sensory details and to write about what they know. I also enjoyed the Prince Charles story. Thanks for including it in the blog. What a great statement about advocacy!


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