The Odd Bird blog–check it out!

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I’ve heard things like, “She is one odd bird” to describe someone who’s different. But it doesn’t often come out in a positive way. Probably, it’s not meant to. Some folks take strange pleasure in pointing out others who they think are weirdos, pieces of work, and odd birds.

I got on the bus one time with someone reciting an entire movie line by line. The person was doing all the lines from all the characters, changing voice and delivery to indicate who was talking. Another rider gave me that eye-roll, raised eyebrows, forced smile, and somehow obligatory side-eye at the person. That dance of facial expressions communicates, “Oh gawd.” Or “look who we’re stuck on the bus with.” Or maybe it’s, “Geez, what’s that weirdo doing that in public for?” I shudder to think it have meant, “What is that weirdo doing in public?” Which I’ve heard at other times.

I didn’t return the smile. I looked at the movie star, looked back at the side-eyer, and said, “I’d never be able to do something like that, memorize an entire movie and do all the voices. That’s really cool.” And I meant it.  Caught off guard, she took a moment, smiled, and told me I was right.

No pats on the back for me. I didn’t change the world. I most certainly did not include the movie star in the conversation, though we were talking about that person right there within ear shot. What I did was was something I feel obligated to do:  interrupt this totally strange thing I see on a regular basis. It’s where people desperately seek sympathy for having to be in a space with someone who doesn’t behave like a “normal” person. Like public space truly belongs to the non-disabled and mainstream and no one else. I just don’t see any problem with being an odd bird. And I’m not the only one.

Enter The Odd Bird NVLD Documentary Project. Of course I don’t remember how or when I found it. But it’s dynamite. You should check it out, especially if you love odd birds. And especially if you love when people reclaim insults and semi-insults and use them as a term of pride. As in, “I am one odd bird!”

This is a transmedia documentary project. That means they’ve got the topic and take advantage of multiple platforms for capturing and sharing storytelling and other information for the documentary.  A film, a blog, multiple videos on the blog, probably much more. It’s neat.

Lillian Baulding, who’s running this project, is a media maker. She’s got non-verbal learning disability (NVLD). And she says the documentary is part of her, “efforts to find a niche where atypical ways of thinking are welcomed and needed.”

On the site, you find current research on neuroscience, learning disabilities, and other related topics. You can watch video clips of folks sharing their perspectives of life with learning disability. And you find the odd bird’s storytelling as well.

A favorite post of mine is called “things i’m not supposed to be able to do.” She’s referring to the ways that scientists, doctors, clinicians, and teachers tell people with disabilities what they will and won’t be able to do. What they can and can’t do. And that if you can or can’t do something or other, then you definitely do or don’t belong to this or that group, according to our testing. Period. Sometimes, those proclamations have nothing to do with what the person experiences themselves.

She writes:  “in developing my film, I’ve been speaking to and corresponding with many NLD-ers who do a lot things they’re not supposed to be able to do–people who collect art, knit and cook well, are gifted at video gaming and math and have excellent people skills. They all have diverse interests, and I’m really enjoying my interactions with them.

What’s interesting, though, is that some of these individuals don’t classify their skills as being worth very much. I understand their thinking: after years of criticism from others, many people with NLD have an in-grained tendency to hyper-focus on the things they can’t do well and never learn to appreciate or sharpen the skills they do possess.”

Blogging and working on the film have uplifted her self-image because well, she’s doing things she’s not supposed to be able to do, according to the experts.

I know some people in my own TBI community who want to try a certain something, but they won’t. They suspect they’ll fail because, well you know, they have a brain injury. It’s a loss to them and to society as a whole when disabled people don’t contribute because they fear they’ll fail.  I talk a lot on this blog about the lack of participation because of inaccessibility, disparities in access, stigma, and discrimination. You only have to internalize that garbage once to start to question your worth. Remember this documentary film’s title, “Who Am I To Stop It”? That’s right. Who on earth are you, of all people, to stop it?

It’s only when we keep insisting that we have a place in society as we are that we can get the accommodations and supports we need to thrive (or be allowed to participate without constantly having irrelevant accommodations thrown at us). Universal design isn’t hot or hip. People aren’t going to make places and things accessible just in case you show up. So the disability community has to keep demanding this because we’re not yet recognized as a culture, a market segment, as much more than inspiringly pitiful and sad or as burdens on the economy and families until and unless we overcome our obstacles.

The Odd Bird’s documentation of lived experiences of people with non-verbal learning disabilities is a powerful action. Name it. Get it out there. Take up some space.