As a child Norman Kunc knew that showing up to school in a little yellow bus would kill his chances with the ladies, so he argued himself back into normal school.
Kunc was born with cerebral palsy. He was in grade-school before there were strategies for inclusion and so he learned to problem solve in order to get by.
He went on to study humanities at university, and got a masters degree in family therapy.
During that time he received a grant to write a book about the problem solving strategies he had learned. A career in speaking challenging societies pervasive assumptions, soon followed.
Kunc and his wife, Emma Van der Klift, who is autistic, spoke about The Right to be Disabled, in Revelstoke at the beginning of May.
“In my view if we don’t change the perception we thwart everything else,” Kunc said.
Growing up Kunc was taught that his disability was the enemy. He said it seemed that the more he minimized it the better chance he had of having a wonderful life.
“I declared war on my disability,” he said.
But one night when he was in university, he was sitting with friends in a pub and one friend imitated his voice.
“Why did you do that?” he later asked his friend.
“Because that’s how you talk,” his friend replied. “Why are you trying to be non-handicapped?”
The drinks and conversation continued to flow after that, and Kun said he began to see his disability differently. Before it was solely within himself, he was inadequate, but that night, for the first time, he saw his disability in the context of humanity.
“I wasn’t broken, I was part of the inherent diversity of humanity,” he said.
Operating on the premise that “people shouldn’t have disabilities” affects how people think about making changes to ensure everyone can be included. It is thought of as “accommodations.”
Kunc suggests that approaching “accommodations” from the perspective that “it is inevitable that some people will be disabled” changes the viewpoint.
They go from being accommodations to correcting architectural errors.
Kunc now sees his disability as a social problem, not a physical problem within himself. He relocated the problem.
“The error lies in society working on the premise that disability is bad,” he said.
Van der Klift also shared her story.
She was diagnosed with autism very late in life and has also gone through a journey of relocating the problem.
She is not a puzzle with a missing piece or a problem to be solved, she said. She is empathetic and having autism is not a fate worse than death.
She has her unique place in the world and many autistic people say they don’t want to be cured, they might just need help sometimes.
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The presentation was hosted by Community Connections and the Revelstoke School District.