Episode 3 Transcript

[intro music]

 

Sarah Todd: 

Hi, I'm Sarah Todd Hammer, and this is Positively Opposite, the podcast where you'll discover through the experience and knowledge of myself and others that disability is not always a negative thing — but in fact, it can be quite the opposite.

 

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Sarah Todd: 

Hi everyone and welcome back to the Positively Opposite podcast! Today I have Nora Klein with me. She is one of my greatest friends from college. She and I met early on in the first semester of our freshman year, and we've made so many memories together. She is super helpful and such a great friend, so I'm so excited to have her on the podcast today! Nora, thank you for being here with me!

 

Nora:

I'm so happy to be here, ST! 

 

Sarah Todd: 

I always love getting to chat with you. I know we're gonna have so much fun. 

 

Nora:

Oh, yes, the most fun! 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Okay, so let's just get right on into the questions for today! So I know you work with an autistic man, and I'm just curious: how did you get that job, and what was it like when you began working with him and what kinds of things did you learn along the way? 

 

Nora:

Yeah, my family actually kind of knew his family through church, and it was really random actually. I baked the bread for the church with his mom, and so we had had some conversations before, and she just approached me one day and asked if I would be interested in doing something like this, and so I said, “yes, of course,” and yeah. So I went over to their house one day, and she just had me shadow one of his other aides that had already been working with him for a long time to make sure that it was something that I was comfortable doing and something that I actually wanted to do. And as soon as I met him — he's just the funniest, sweetest person ever — so I knew I definitely wanted to work with him. It really doesn't even feel like a job. It's so cool that I just get to hang out with one of my friends and be paid for it. But I did learn all kinds of things. It was definitely a really sharp learning curve when I started working with him, because it's so different the way he needs to do things. And they do trainings every month for his aides, and so I did one of those before I started working with him just to learn (because he has like a three-step process he uses for everything) and just to get me more acquainted with his accommodations. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

That's so cool! I love how you got that job. That's so sweet that they just approached you and were like, “Hey, do you want to do this?” and you ended up loving it. 

 

Nora:

I know. I got really, really lucky. I’ve thought about that a lot of times. Like, “what if they never even said anything to me?” So it was cool. I also had to be 18 to work with him.  

 

Sarah Todd: 

Yeah, that makes sense. That's so cool. I love that so much. So now steering into a little bit of a different topic... but when we were first becoming friends, you asked me if I prefer for you to go ahead and help me with things before I ask or if I prefer for you to wait to help me until I ask, and I literally thought this was the greatest thing ever. I've never had anyone ask me this before, and I just think it's a super good way to approach helping your disabled friend or family member. So I'm curious: how did you know to ask me this? 

 

Nora:

Well, I guess a little bit of me helping you did remind me of the autistic man that I work with, and I know one of the things in my job — I'm always questioning myself. I'm like, “Do I let him try this?” or, “I know he can't do this, so do I go ahead and help him?” And so I was having some of the same questions with you. But then I was like, “Wait… this is my friend. Instead of just literally wondering every time she goes to do something, I should just ask because I'm sure that's exactly what she would prefer instead of just having me jump in when it's something she can totally obviously do. Or if she needs help…” I don't know. I didn't know because I didn't know you that well. And so I didn't know if you were too shy to ask yourself — especially because we weren't super close friends yet. And so I just wanted us both to feel comfortable, and I figured directly asking that was probably the best solution. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Yeah, it was so cool. I remember being like, “Wow, that's so sweet you thought to ask me that!” And you asked it at the perfect point in our friendship development, I think, because we'd known each other for a few weeks, I think. 

 

Nora:

Yeah, maybe like a week. It was something very early on. Not like super early on.

 

Sarah Todd: 

Yeah, it was really early on. So it was like the perfect time, though, because we knew each other well enough that it wasn't weird, but you asked it early on enough that you didn't let too much time pass by and then it would have become awkward to ask later. 

 

Nora:

I know that's what I was thinking of. Like, “I have to say something now, or this is going to be that thing where you don't know the person's name, but you're too awkward.” 

 

Sarah Todd:

That's like with my name where I let people call me “Sarah” for literal years and then never correct them and tell them it's “Sarah Todd.”

 

Nora:

Stop! Our first text — I remember going back and looking at it, and I called you “Sarah” and I just cringed. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I think it's so funny.

 

Nora:

I was pretty surprised, though, when you said nobody had really asked you that before. I was surprised that nobody had asked you. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I mean, I'd actually never even thought of that being a good thing for someone to ask me. I guess I'd never really thought about what I wanted people to do. I just knew it was always this weird situation where I was like, “Shoot, do I just ask them for help with the weirdest thing and then have them think I'm weird because I can't open this thing?” Or, “Do they not really care or am I gonna annoy them when I ask?” And so that's always going through my head. So honestly I think it's interesting you were thinking a lot of the same things. Like, “Oh shoot, how do I deal with this? How do I make it not awkward?” Because that makes me honestly feel a little better knowing I'm not the only one having that go through my head whenever I make a new friend. 

 

Nora:

Oh, yes, well I'm sure yeah any of your friends are probably thinking along the exact same lines, so somebody just has to speak up eventually. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, or else it's just gonna get really awkward. And like I said, you asked it at the perfect point, because if you'd waited too long, then it just would have been awkward, because you wouldn't have known what to do, and then I would have felt weird I think, because I wouldn't have known when to ask you for certain things. It just would have been really awkward, so it worked out really well. And since you asked me that, when people ask me for advice on how they can help disabled people, I’ve started telling them that I had a friend who did this, and so I've started suggesting it to people, because it made such an impact on me, and I thought it was just amazing you asked that, so.


 

Nora:

Oh, that's so cool! I'm glad that I could do that for you. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Me too. It makes me so happy. So obviously, from the very beginning, you were already being a great friend, and you're always so willing to help me. And I'm just kind of curious about the perspective of the person actually doing the helping, because obviously I'm typically the one receiving the help. So what's the experience like for you when you're helping me or any other disabled person?

 

Nora:

I guess to some extent, it's honestly not that different, because I feel like no matter what kind of friends you have — disabled, non-disabled — you're gonna help everybody at some point, and so it's kind of just like helping your friend and so you’re having fun. But then some things... sometimes I am still questioning. Like okay, “Is this the point where she can do it herself now?” Like, “Should I stop?” When I'm opening a water bottle or whatever or if I help you carry your food back, I'm always like, “Okay, what do I open?” And like, “What do I just leave on the desk?” Not in a super stressed out way, but I really try to remember so it's not awkward. It never ever feels like a burden or anything to me. I really, really like helping you, and sometimes it's really, really fun. Like when we get to do really weird stuff together or when we're struggling to open the door, because it's pouring, and we have all of our hands full, and then your one hand doesn't work, and it kind of depends on the situation. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I think so. Honestly, we do have so much fun. I love when you say we're like a circus act when you're helping me. When you mentioned the rain, I was just picturing us walking back into the dorm, and the door's not opening, and there's no accessible button, and we're carrying all our food and trying to open it. And it's just a mess. We're always such a circus act. 

 

Nora:

I know. We do manage to get it done, though, somehow. Especially with you holding your card between your knees to get into your room. Remember when you used to have to do that? 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yes! Oh my gosh. Yeah. I use my legs to do a lot of stuff. The most embarrassing is when I'm at a store and I'm trying to pay for something, and I put my little wristlet in between my legs and I’m unzipping it, because then my legs are acting as my left hand. I always feel like people are just staring at me like, “What are you doing?” 

 

Nora:

They might be, but it's still pretty ingenious. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Honestly, it works. But yeah, I love hearing about your perspective from it, because for me, I feel like I'm always like, “Oh shoot, I just asked her to do something ,and then I need something else, and I don't want to bug her.” But even though I know you don't mind or whoever I'm asking for help — I know people don't mind. But I don't want to be annoying. And so it's interesting to me knowing that you're thinking about it a lot, too, and you're trying to do things well because you just want to be respectful. So when you mentioned the food: just thinking about when we're coming back from the dining hall, and you're putting it on my desk for me. You're always so sweet and helpful. And then it was interesting how you were able to learn, like, “Oh, she can open that kind of box, and I know she needs help with that box, and then I know I need to help her with the utensils,” and it's honestly a lot to remember, and I applaud you for remembering all of that. 

 

Nora:

Well, sometimes I do forget, and you're always really good about reminding me, too, so it works both ways. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, we work really well together. And honestly, you're so good about not finding anything too weird to help me with. I love being super open about this, because awareness is important, and for me I'm very comfortable with myself, because I've had to be. I have to have my mom help me shower if we're in a hotel, because I can't use the shower and stuff like that. And so having people help me with personal stuff doesn't really bother me. And you would help me take my brace off every night, you'd help me shave my armpits. Nora, you would do anything for me, and just knowing you would just makes me feel really good. 

 

Nora:

Oh, that's so good. I know. It's always the best, because it just really gives me more excuses to come hang out with you at really weird times. So yeah. It's a really good thing I think. 

 

Sarah Todd:

That's so true. Yeah, you would always get to just come randomly help me with something. Like the time I was getting ready for the Rusky Business, and you helped me put on the oxford shirt. I remember we said that day — I was like, “This is such a funny thing that you're helping me with,” and you were like, “Yeah, we always seem to find some interesting thing for me to help you with.” 

 

Nora:

I know. Yeah. We've had some good times. 

 

Sarah Todd:

We really have. It's been so fun. And there will be many more interesting ones, I'm sure. So clearly, you've learned a lot just with helping me — just us being friends. But also, I'm curious about what are some topics related to the disability community that you think you're more aware of? Maybe because of your job working with the autistic man or just our friendship or maybe just in general if you've seen something on Instagram or whatever? 

 

Nora:

Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is I guess I didn't realize how many people don't realize that people are disabled. And so a lot of times when they're rude, it's because of that. They literally think you're supposed to be functioning like a fully functioning body or whatever. And I've learned that from you and from my job. Just walking around with the autistic man in the stores and stuff. People won't even realize sometimes, and so then he'll start having — we call him his behaviors — but he'll just make noises or twitch his hand or something like that, and people just look at him like he's crazy, and I'm like, “Gosh, he's doing so well! You don't have to be so rude!” And then the same with you sometimes. I know when you're trying to open doors or things, you sometimes worry that people won't realize why you're standing out there. So I guess I haven't realized that, but now I do because of our friendship. 

 

Sarah Todd:

That was a really interesting one, because it is different for me, because a lot of people aren't going to look at me and notice I have a disability, so it just creates this interesting dynamic, I guess. Because in some ways, it is more helpful for me that people don't notice my disability, because I know a lot of people who have visible disabilities — they get mistreated a lot more in some ways. But then also, I experience some mistreatment that people with visible disabilities don't experience. So it does make it more of an unusual dynamic, I guess. And like you mentioned with the doors, it's always so awkward. Like when I was trying to go into the dining hall, and the accessible button wasn't working, and there was no one around, because it was pouring rain, and I think I was going to get lunch pretty late. And I remember I called you, and I was like, “The button isn't working. I'm so mad!” And you offered to come get me, and I was like, “No, it's okay,” because that was such a long walk, and someone eventually came up. But yeah, it's always awkward if I need to ask for help and then they don't know why and it almost just looks like I'm lazy or something. I hate that, because it's so awkward. A lot of people are just scared of the unknown. Like when they see the autistic man you're working with, they've never seen anyone behaving like that, and so they're just scared, because they don't know what's happening, and it's really sad, because there needs to be more awareness and exposure so that everyone can feel comfortable and welcome. 

 

Nora:

Yes, for sure. Yeah, I remember this one time where the man I work with — he was ordering on the phone from his favorite restaurant ever. And he always orders on the phone there, and actually most of the workers there know him, and they get so excited to hear him on the phone, so that's always great. But then I guess it was a new worker or something, and he was trying to order. And I always sit next to him, but he really enjoys ordering by himself, and so he was doing it. But sometimes he doesn't speak super super clearly, so sometimes they have to get him to repeat himself. But he actually did a really, really good job this time. But I guess the reception on the line was pretty bad, and so the lady couldn't hear him, and so she kept asking him to repeat himself like maybe two or three times, but she said it in such a rude way. It was really awful. It made me want to cry, because the man I work with — he was just really proud of himself, because he knew he did a good job ordering, and he didn't understand why she couldn't understand him. And so it was just a really hard situation that made me really sad. And I wish people would just be respectful of people, because you never know what's going on with them or what they struggle with. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Right. That is so sad. He was so proud of being able to do something independently, and that almost could have just been ruined by the woman's attitude. 

 

Nora:

For sure. And I guess another topic — I guess it's very similar to what I just talked about — but that I've become more aware of is just how the world is not built for disabled people and how you wouldn't have half the struggles that you do if things were just made for you. Not even for you, but just in a way that would work for you. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Exactly. 

 

Nora:

So I've definitely become more aware of that, because before I didn't realize but just walking around with you and just knowing like, “Wow, if there's a button here, she could totally open this door,” or things like that. It's made me a lot more conscious of it. So now, everywhere I go, I'm like, “Oh, that's not accessible!” I'm like, “Oh, I can go here because I can walk, but if somebody couldn't walk, they could never experience this.” And so I guess I thought about that a lot more, too. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I love that so much. I love that I made you think about that. That's such a good thing. Yeah, it's so true. Having the societal barriers is a huge problem, and it makes it so much harder for us to just live our lives independently. If things were just built differently, they could be accessible for everyone, and that's why I always say at school, I'm essentially not disabled, because they redid my whole dorm room for me and made it so I can shower independently. And I do still need help with a few things like from you, but essentially I'm pretty much not disabled, because I don't need help with as nearly as many things as I would if they hadn't made my room accessible. So it is interesting that a lot of people — if they're not disabled, they're somewhat aware of the challenges we face (obviously not completely because they're not experiencing them). But they're somewhat aware of the challenges we face, and they feel really bad about that. But then, they don't really try to do anything to help make the world more accessible. So if you go to a restaurant, and you notice that the restrooms are downstairs or upstairs and there's not an elevator, that needs to be called out. And a lot of people get too scared to call out the inaccessibility, but that's really one of the only ways that we can fix the problem. 

 

Nora:

Yes, hopefully people will make the world a better, more accessible place. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I mean, even just having you being aware of it is helpful, because you're thinking about it. So I think just making people more aware of it makes a difference in and of itself, just because you never know what kinds of people you might end up meeting and what kinds of jobs you might end up having, and if you have this knowledge that you have right now, that could end up being really helpful. You want to be a teacher — if you're ever working in a school and you notice something is inaccessible, then you could be helpful in that regard. So just being aware of it is honestly helpful. Okay, so I love to ask this as my final question so that we end on a positive note since I'm trying to highlight positive aspects of the disability experience. So I'm curious what the most positive aspect of getting to know and work with disabled people like the autistic man you work with has been? 

 

Nora:

Honestly, it might just be that I love having new friends. It's really cool sometimes how disabilities mean that you get really, really close with someone, and I know we’ve talked about this with you and me, too. But just because it kind of forces you to be close with them — but not in a bad way. Just in a way that you really get to spend time with them or you really get to know some of their things maybe you wouldn't normally get to know about people. You kind of get to know that really quickly. So I feel like some of my strongest bonds with people and my best friendships are with disabled people, maybe because of that, but then also just because they're really great people. And then also, I love having friends, because I feel like friends always teach you new things, and so I feel so lucky to have you as a friend, and then to work with that man, because you guys just teach me the most. I don't think I've ever learned more from anybody ever, and you always stay so on top of things. And yes. I really like that part of it, too. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, you're so cute. Oh my gosh. I love you so much. That's literally so sweet. I love that. It's so true. I'm always saying that disability makes friendships stronger, and I really do think so, because how many people would I let help me shave my armpits? I clearly feel comfortable with you, because you've made me feel comfortable, and so we kind of have that vulnerability, and that brings us closer together, because you're able to really understand what I'm encountering in my day-to-day life more closely. So I love having those experiences together. And it's so true that we just get more close, and I love that. And I've also learned so much from you, too, because like I mentioned before, you helped me learn a good way to teach people how to offer to help people. I'd never thought about that before you asked me that question, and that's something I've started telling people. And you helped me learn that. And you've helped me learn a lot about what it means to be a good communicator, because you're so good at that. Especially with asking me the question about help — that was a good way to communicate. But just also with making sure you're respecting my boundaries with my independence when you're helping me, and you're just very good about communicating when you're available to help me and if you're not available to help me, because you have to respect your own boundaries, too. You can't be at my beck and call. So you're very good about making sure you have the balance there. 

 

Nora:

Well, that's what all good friendships are about.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yes, you're a very good friend. I'm very thankful for you.

 

Nora:

Me too.

 

Sarah Todd:

Well, thank you so much for being on my podcast, Nora! This was so fun. 

 

Nora:

Oh, thanks for having me, ST! I had so much fun, too! 

 

Sarah Todd:

Thank you so much for tuning in to this week's episode of Positively Opposite! If you'd like to connect with me, visit my website, sarahtoddhammer.com. Transcripts of each episode will be available there. Also, be sure to follow the Positively Opposite Instagram for all the latest updates and special content regarding the podcast. I hope you'll join me and another amazing guest at the next episode. 

 

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