On meeting people…

So last weekend a company called Leckey flew me out to their factory to view a product launch.

This has, literally, never happened before in my life.

I’ll be writing about it in three parts. I’ll be talking about meeting the other bloggers and such there today and then in later posts I’ll be talking about the company and the product itself.

I was unhelpfully late to the ‘meet everyone’ dinner. This was embarrassing on several levels. Firstly, because it’s rude to the organisers and the other guests;  Secondly the reason I was late was because I got distracted solving this, which it is impossible to sound cool about; Thirdly, because it required this exchange with the a Helpful Waiter.

Me: Hi, I’m meeting some people here

Helpful Waiter: That’s no problem Sir, do you have the table name?

Me: I’m afraid not

Helpful Waiter: That’s fine, do you know how many people the table was for?

Me: Er no…

Helpful Waiter: No problem, it happens, would you like to have a quick look around to see if you recognise your friends?

Me: Actually I don’t know what any of them look like.

Helpful Waiter rallied magnificently at this information, and found me the right table. I suspect that there is a reasonable possibility he guessed. After all, there was a reasonable possibility I’d never know. I should say that this sort of thing isn’t normally a problem with events I go to. When you are looking for ‘the table of computer science researchers’ it’s fairly obvious which one you want.

The guest list for the next 24 hour turned out to be a reasonable proportion of my list of top bloggers by traffic. We had Ellen from Love That Max, Stacy from Noah’s Miracle, Stacie of Mama Lewis, Kara from Free as Trees, Tania of Special Needs Jungle, Chantai of Special Needs Magazine, Renata of Just Bring the Chocolate, and Hayley of Downside Up.  All had amazing stories, both everyday(in this context), and were utterly extraordinary.

Here, we have a gratuitous group photo(terribly missing one person, which is sad) :

group photo of all bloggers mentioned in paragraph above.(In case you are wondering, the other guys in the photo are family members)

Yes, as it happens everyone but me was a mum – this provided a certain amount of confusion as almost exactly half the other bloggers at the dinner presumed that I was part of Leckey, and asked a range of deeply confusing questions, but we did eventually establish which camp I was in.  For irony points I later assumed that Ross Head (of Cerebra, and all round good egg) was part of Leckey on exactly the same grounds.

It’s quite reasonable that everyone else was a parent of a child with special needs – given that were attending a product launch for a child’s walking device (more on that in a later post), but it was a little bit of a culture shock for me – I was too young to remember Richard that young and most of my engagement since is with disabled people themselves, or siblings, or professionals working with them.  So parents are a surprisingly unknown quantity. Without exception of course, they were lovely, deeply devoted, strong people. They were focused, they had a thing to fight for and they fought.

Had I met a set of traditional disability academics we would have  loudly argued over the role of privacy in social care and class as a marker of neo-tranhumanist thought (I made that last one up, but don’t be surprised if I sneak it into a paper). If I had met up with a younger group of disability researchers we would have complained about missing data and senior academics and conferences that only want to hear about neo-transhumanist perspectives even though that was totally, like, 1990s. With Assistive Technologists, we would have designed something by the main course and broken it again by the dessert…

But these were people who between them have supported thousands of people all over the world by sharing their stories, struggles and triumphs, and in person they are exactly that: supportive. It was mesmerizing: they sympathized with each other, picked out positive after positive, understood, shared, all completely without any sense of self or awkwardness, just because it was how they were built. These people turn out to be exactly the people in person that you would expect from reading their words.

What I take away from the conversations was not anything that was said but a supremely caring and safe atmosphere, which is a deep culture shock to someone it happily works in a department that considers chess far too much of an emotional affair.

This looks like Hayley and Ellen are interested in what I'm saying, but anyone who was in the room knows that there was a wonderfully cheerful and friendly small child sitting behind me who is responsible for their grinning...

This looks like Hayley and Ellen are interested in what I’m saying, but anyone who was in the room knows that there was a wonderfully cheerful and friendly small child sitting behind me who is responsible for their grinning…

There were, of course, things we disagreed on – a sibling perspective is almost defined in opposition to a parent one, and it’s also clear that I don’t look at the internet in even the same frame of reference as many of the others, but I’ve rarely been surrounded by such genuine people with such astonishing tales.

3 thoughts on “On meeting people…

  1. I loved this blog post on so many levels Joe. You can’t imagine how much I valued meeting you and the impact and you made. It was a honor to meet you, and I have so much respect and admiration for your brilliant mind and dedication. You are a truly gifted thinker, and although maybe you felt like you were in a sea of devoted parents – mainly moms, you yourself are more important than you might realize. While I very much understand why you don’t blog about the sibling disability relationship, you certainly are a part of this world just like we are, and I love the voice within you. I didn’t even notice you were late!! I just enjoyed your company and good humor, thank you for your instant friendship and acceptance with our often complicated and challenging lives. Hope we get a chance to all meet up again someday. Keep up the good work Joe!

  2. It was lovely meeting you too, Joe. It was quite an overwhelming experience to be with so many incredible people. especially as it was the first time I had been “out by myself” since I have had my own disability. I’m the missing person- by the afternoon I had to find a quiet space for 30 mins to recharge.
    Hope to see you again soon. xx

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