mediationGood communication has always been very important to me. I suppose there are a number of reasons for that. First, communication has the ability to level the playing field. Sometimes, when people see my disability, they assume I am not intelligent or that I can’t express what I need. Secondly, good communication allows me to express what my life is like and hopefully gives the people around me a better understanding of who I truly am. Then there are the little things, like how effective communication with my caregivers makes my life easier and such. Because all of those things are important, I am continually looking for ways to improve my communication skills.

Several years ago, I discovered mediation. Most often used in the legal arena, it allows two parties who are having a disagreement to come together and express their individual needs and opinions. Then with the assistance of a certified mediator, the parties work together to find a solution to their conflict that they can both agree on. From the first experience I had with mediation I was hooked. Rather than have a judge look at two sides of a case and simply decide who is right and who is wrong, mediation allows each party to see the other’s point of view. And I have witnessed understanding that neither thought was possible through the process.

I started to take classes to get trained as a mediator in 2004. Once I took the introduction to mediation course, classes in civil mediation, domestic mediation and victim/offender mediation followed. There was not a class I took that I didn’t love. Eventually, I was able to teach a class on the subject as well. You guessed it. “Accommodating Disability in Mediation” was taught directly from my heart.

After all the coursework, in order to get my certification, I had to go through a practicum. Similar to the concept of student teaching, I had to mediate three cases in small claims court under the supervision of a more experienced mediator.

Once my training for small claims mediation was done, I decided I wanted additional practice with civil mediation. I got in touch with a retired attorney from Topeka who was a full-time mediator. He agreed to let me observe a civil case he was mediating.

I met him in his office on the morning scheduled before anyone else had arrived. While waiting for the others, he casually asked me what part of civil mediation I was interested in. I responded that I was interested in mediating cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act because I passionately agreed with that law. Almost as an afterthought, I happened to say that “the ADA has been on the books for the past 17 years, and I simply don’t understand why some places in communities still are not accessible.”

The mediation that I observed that day only fueled my desire to learn all I could about mediation. So the next day I wrote an email to the mediator from the day before. After thanking him for allowing me to be part of the mediation, I told him that I knew he had a smaller office in Lawrence, where I live, and I asked him if I might be able to volunteer there.

His reply came later in the day. “Lorraine, I am incredibly embarrassed, but our offices in Lawrence are on the second floor, and there is no elevator.”

I must have laughed for at least ten minutes solid.

Was I angry? No, because he was genuinely kind about the whole thing, I got the vibe he was close to mortified, and that the structure of the building would make it both difficult and costly to make accessible.  He also promised to remedy the situation as soon as he could.

Good communication has always been very important to me for many reasons.

And sometimes the irony that comes from it is just plain awesome!