My son and I went to the National TASH convention in San Francisco when he was 12 years old. After years of struggling to make himself understood, most recently with the aid of a bulky and expensive augmentative communication device, he found a community where some of the most charismatic leaders roused their followers using the same method of speaking.
We sat in on morning and afternoon sessions on topics that were of interest specifically to him and our family, and ate meals with new friends to extend our conversations. Between workshops, we met dozens of people in the vendors' hall, who had developed products to support and encourage individuals living with a wide diversity of what were once classified as 'severe disabilities.'
At the TASH conference I learned that my son and our family was part of a larger and much older movement toward self-determination and inclusion that we both had fought so hard for in our local community. Being a cross-disability organization with a focus on civil rights and community access for those historically most likely to be institutionalized, we could move freely and meet people without being ambushed by 'sympathetic' professionals 'inspired' by our ordinary lives, or shouted down by parents and professionals insisting on the collaboration and compromise required to maintain a status quo detrimental to all people with disabilities.
Activism for national legislation and local intervention against 'worst practices' has created the only significant change of benefit to my son and family. There was no sense of a disability hierarchy in the TASH workshops: we were all moving forward together from wherever we happened to be. I met other parents, professionals, and advocates who treated us both as equals, with high expectations for success in surpassing our individual goals. I left the TASH conference believing that we could accomplish anything.
TASH was necessary because disability was a life and death struggle against seclusion and neglect, and real change meant taking power and control away from those whose best interests were served by protecting systems as they had developed. Being in community with other people who understand there can be no compromise to full citizenship for people with disabilities changed the course of my life as much as my son's life. He has done much more with every opportunity he has had than I ever imagined. Although I had read every TASH journal cover to cover, and had written articles for our local chapter newsletter, nothing had impacted me like being in the community in person. Rather than being told I should be careful not to 'burn bridges' by advocating for my son, the conversation was all about the bridges that had been built to destinations destructive to the lives of people with disabilities.
In 2013, the annual TASH convention was held in Chicago, Illinois. By all accounts, the quality of the presenters and every other aspect of the convention held true to our experience in San Francisco. I highly recommend both the national and state TASH conventions for individuals with disabilities as well as their families. Especially for those of us whose children are diagnosed at birth or early childhood, TASH instills awareness of disability history and respect for advocacy pioneers with disabilities who are still working toward full citizenship for those who are more disabled by prejudice, discrimination, deliberate ignorance and misinformation, than by any diagnosis.
Browse at your public library, local bookstore, or online retailer for books like:
Critical Issues in the Lives of People With Severe Disabilities
No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement
TASH: Three days of learning in Chicago
History of TASH
Cal-TASH on Facebook