FOR THE PAST ten days, lecturer Judith Snow from Toronto, Ontario, has been on the Savannah living room tour, having supper and conversation at homes around the city.
Snow, her personal assistant and three friends are in town to work on a project with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. They expanded their visit to include this supper series and a talk this Thursday night at The Sentient Bean, all organized by Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy.
It’s difficult to describe the conversational topic of the dinner I attended with sixteen others this past Saturday in Ardsley Park. Listening to Snow reminisce about her first real friend, and about a high school classmate who was an Olympic diver, her talk was a relaxing post-dinner nightcap, going down smooth and mellow after dessert.
While it’s not unusual for a heavy hitter on the lecture circuit to travel with an entourage, Snow’s road crew assists her with tasks that other consultants take for granted. Scheduling and phone calls? Sure.
But also, getting in and out of bed. Dressing. Bathing. Eating and drinking. Traveling—not only from Toronto to Savannah, but from the dining room to the living room.
The basics of living are different for Snow than for most people. She uses a wheelchair tricked out with more electronic and computer circuitry than my Subaru, including a slender microphone attached to an unobtrusive speaker system that amplifies her quiet, alto-toned speaking voice.
Format or no format, Snow has an agenda: include people whom Snow calls “labeled as disabled” in the routines of ordinary living. Such inclusion might require new ways of thinking and acting on many people’s parts, and adjustments to social policies and the institutional structures that have come out of those policies. With a little bit of planning and some willingness to expand our thinking, and adjusting our definitions of certain words like “gifted” and “able bodied” and “normal,” everyone can be included.
Saturday’s party was an example of Snow’s agenda in full flower. In a lot of ways it was a non-event-- dinner around the table or in the den, with guests exchanging accounts of travel, work, and that old Savannah conversational standby--who knows whom, and how. Then, after the meal, drinks or coffee in the living room with more conversation.
Being lefthanded, I often have to ask for rearrangement of snug dinner seating to make sure I don’t jostle some nearby right-hander. Saturday, for probably the thousandth time, I made sure that no anaphylactic-shock inducing shrimp or crabmeat was hidden in the salad to trigger my iodine allergy. Accommodations are made for these physical quirks of mine all the time.
At Saturday’s party, while I made sure to avoid the crabcakes, one of the guests (Snow) happened to sit at the table in a wheelchair, and she happened to have an assistant sitting next to her to lift forkfuls of Cajun beans and spicy sautéed zucchini to her mouth. Accommodating these physical circumstances as routinely as my left-handedness is what Snow tries to motivate in others, through her work and in her everyday life.
Knowing that Citizen Advocacy had organized the supper, I expected the night would evolve into a discussion on including people with disabilities in ordinary life situations. I and others were prepared for a dose of radical information and an accompanying epiphany.
But we were for the most part an informed audience when it comes to the inclusion message. Plus, we’d just enjoyed a festive night that delivered Snow’s message more succinctly than any anecdotes.
After Snow spoke, no one asked any questions at first. Not an awkward silence, but more of a quiet hum. A comment was made, clearly an effort to get a conversational ball rolling. One woman offered a query, a man offered an observation, but the desire for a supercharged discourse clearly wasn’t there.
After the host thanked Snow and the guests for coming, people drifted out the door, home to pay the babysitters and turn in for the night. Perhaps the couples chit-chatted in their cars about who was there and how the night transpired. Isn’t that how a Saturday night dinner party is supposed to go?
Judith Snow: A Quiet Evening About Power
Thursday, January 17 7:30 p.m. FREE admission
at The Sentient Bean.
Email Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.