Glenda Watson Hyatt is an author, a blogger and a podcaster. By the way, she also has cerebral palsy.
When Glenda was born, her disabilities were severe enough that her parents were advised to institutionalize her. They didn’t. And the redhead proved the experts wrong.
I’ve been a friend and admirer friend of Glenda’s since we met virtually, quite a few moons ago, on an online discussion forum. So I was quite delighted when Glenda asked me to help promote her autobiography, I’ll Do It Myself, by interviewing her as part of her 40 day virtual book tour.
Here is the interview – my questions in italics. It’s an extended interview – make sure you click “more” to read it in full: whether or not you decide to check out Glenda’s book you won’t be disappointed.
Glenda, I remember when we met virtually on the Ryze network, I wasn’t aware that you had any disability until you mentioned it. That’s so different from what would happen in the offline world, surely? Do you find that people communicate differently with you, more effectively, less effectively, when they finally get that this great communicator Glenda has had to beat a few challenges a lot of us never dream of facing?
Glenda: Communicating online has been so liberating for me because my cerebral palsy isn’t even in the picture, unless I happen to mention it. That is not to say that I hide or am ashamed of my disability, but sometimes it is not important to the task at hand; it is an extraneous fact. And people don’t approach and interact with me online the same way they do in the real world, with all of their assumptions and misperceptions about people with disabilities.
When I do mention my disability online, people tend to open up and reveal their own disability, challenge or struggle. It leads to a more honest and a deeper connection than what may have occurred face-to-face. Ironically, using this impersonal technology can result in more personal relationships.
In one of the other interviews for this tour you touched on wanting to do something to help people communicate better with people with disabilities. I find that quite fascinating: I may have told you about my own experience of conducting a national survey on the arts and disability and having to do a lot of learning about how to listen effectively and how to speak effectively.
I remember, with some embarrassment to this day, that when about to enter a room full of people with disabilities, some quite severe, I had a bit of a panic attack: what if I couldn’t understand them? Fortunately, I took a deep breath, told myself to just listen, and it worked out ok. But it wasn’t perfect. What suggestions do you have for the rest of us to do that sort of thing better?
Glenda: You did the right thing, Des, by taking a deep breath to relax, which is definitely the first step. Be open with your audience by telling them you are new to communicating with people with disabilities and allow them to guide you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Speaking for myself, with my Glenda-ish, I would prefer to repeat myself, even a few times, than to have you pretend to have understood what I said. When unsure what I’ve said, simply repeat what you have heard and ask whether that was what I’ve actually said. I’ll then either confirm “yes, I said that” or I will deny having ever said that and repeat myself. No need to feel awkward or to apologize for not understanding. (To share a little secret with you, I don’t always understand when I hear myself either! That is life with cp.)
For further suggestions on communicating with people with disabilities, particularly those with speech disabilities, take a look at my article Say What?: Effectively Communicating with Clients with Speech Disabilities .
I guess you find that your brain and your creative surges go much faster than your body can sometimes manage, in terms of “getting it all down”. And if so, do you find that frustrating and how do you deal with it?
Glenda: Oh, most definitely! It is so frustrating when my left thumb can not keep up with my brain and my thoughts. I am still waiting for the scientists to develop “my cap” that would read my thoughts and then enter them into the computer; something I dreamt of when I was ten. Until that happens, I really need to choose the projects I undertake and the ideas I implement. I need to focus on what is most important to me and what I am most passionate about. That was part of the reason why I chose to write my autobiography I’ll Do It Myself now rather than later in life.
I know that you are very au fait with web accessibility standards and it was interesting to read about your work for the provincial government. As we both know, way back in the 90s there was a push to make websites more accessible. But my sense is that all that concern with web accessibility has been pushed aside or forgotten, or people are just not aware – for example – that what they think is a very nice site might as well be a brick wall with no writing on it, for people who are blind or have limited sight.
And I fear some of us bloggers may be serious offenders here – after all, we can now create our own sites in a keystroke and maybe feel we are not going to be pursued by government discrimination watchdogs, so we don’t have the incentive to get it right that a company might have to avoid being named and shamed, let alone fined. Or, more probably in my opinion, a lot of people just don’t know. How do you feel all that is going, in Canada, in North America, generally on the web?
Glenda: From what I have seen, the Canadian federal government has taken web accessibility seriously for its own websites; of course, there are glitches and limits, fabricated up or not. The provincial governments have been slower to adopt web accessibility policies; and from one inside source, it really depends on which political party is in power. The British Columbia government website’s level of accessibility has decreased since I did the report for hem. Big business’ adoption of web accessibility is hit and miss.
With the blogoshpere, I feel the responsibility lies with the blog software developers rather than individual bloggers. But, again, what is the developer’s motivation or incentive for going the extra mile? I agree that most people simply don’t know or understand the need for web accessibility. I strongly believe in increasing that awareness and understanding rather than fining organizations.
What does it feel like to be a hero for a lot of people? How’s the ego handling that? 🙂
Glenda: A hero? Wow, that isn’t how I consider myself and isn’t what I am aiming for. I consider myself more as a mentor or role model for people with disabilities, which has been lacking, particularly in the public eye and mass media. Unlike a hero, whom I envision as unreachable by most people, I want to be approachable. I would like people to feel comfortable asking me questions about the still rather taboo subject of living with a disability; so that they feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know how to communicate with people with disabilities. What do I do?” Or, “I hadn’t thought of making websites accessible. Tell me more.” I believe that is how, in most cases, barriers will come tearing down, rather than through legislation and policy.
Your book title, “I’ll Do It Myself”. Care to talk about that? Have you ever been offered help, said no, and later kicked yourself, so to speak?
Glenda: Sure! The phrase I’ll do it myself came about when I was a little girl. As a stubborn red-head, I preferred doing things myself and would utter, in my Glenda-ish, “I’ll do it myself,” whenever someone tried helping with something I really could do myself; besides, they never did it the way I wanted it done! I came known as the I’ll-do-it-myself girl. It was the obvious choice for the title of my autobiography.
As for kicking myself for turning down help, no, I don’t recall such an incident. However, there have been countless times in which I received help, solicited or not, and it turned out to be no help at all!
Glenda, it’s been fun and a privilege to have this chance to ask you a few questions and give you the opportunity to connect with some more people who will surely want to check out your book. I’m sure a lot of people with disabilities will be inspired and cheered by your story, and others too who may not be experiencing any particular disability just now. Sooner or later, everyone is touched by disability in some way, personally, with a family member or loved one or friend, or maybe even several or all of those. Thank you for making the time for us.
Glenda: Thank you so much, Des, for taking time out of your busy schedule promoting your new book Big Biller to host this stop on my virtual book tour “40 Blogs in 40 (Business) Days”. I truly appreciate it.
I would like to invite your readers to join me for the rest of the virtual tour by visiting www.doitmyselfblog.com and signing up to receive blog updates right in their email inbox. How cool is that!