Tony Diamanti

Toronto, Ontario

 

Diamanti_portrait_350.jpg

I AM TONY DIAMANTI, A MAN WITH SOMETHING TO SAY, AND A MAN TO BE HEARD.

I am a man with cerebral palsy, and I cannot speak. I am a disability rights activist who lives independently in the community.  I am a freelance writer, who has written various newspaper articles, as well as my autobiography. I’ve co-written a play.  My work focuses on social awareness and disability, with topics ranging from attendant care to sexuality.

As  a  child  growing up in  a  world  where  verbal communication is  the quickest  way  of  relating  to others, I  had  to adapt to other forms of communicating.  At 4 or 5,  I used  facial expressions and eye contact to communicate with my parents and my older  sister. I only used written communication when my mother or father couldn't guess what I was trying to tell them with my grunts or physical gestures. I would spell out simple words or sentences to my sister with a 'head-pointer' and letter board.  She would then translate them to my mother or father, who were from Italy, and had not been in Canada long enough to learn English.   

As a kid who couldn’t speak, making friends with kids who didn’t have disabilities was not as difficult as it is in my adult life now.  I can remember those young kids in my neighborhood coming up to me and asking very honest questions about my disability and about how I "talked."

"Hi, I'm Noel, what's your name?"   In response I made eye contact with that kid and smiled.   I hoped he’d  ask  me another question and  I could either nod my head yes,  or shake my head no. I wanted my response to let him know I understood what he was saying, and to lead him to finding out that I couldn't speak.   When he asked that key question,   "Can't you talk?"  I could then shake my head no. Eventually, he did find out how I "talked," and we even found other means of relating to each other quickly, without using my head-pointer and letter board.   I would show my facial expressions—happy, sad, mad, and funny looks.   We were both about 7 at the time, so not much verbal dialogue was needed to keep the friendship going.   We would play ball, wrestle, and make up games where I could use my head-pointer to pretend I was an alien from Mars.

In the school system I was put in a class with other kids who had physical and intellectual disabilities.  At four, I was confused as to why I was in this class. In my mind, and the way my parents were bringing me up, I had no disability.  So what was I doing here with these sick kids?  The friends I had in my neighborhood all went to different schools.  In my four-year-old mind I thought, “Mummy! Why am I here? I don’t want to be here! Mummy! I wanna go home! Take me home! Take me home now!”   This was my first introduction into a segregated school system.

The main way people have to relate to one another is by talking. Speech. The  quick  and definitive way people  in society can know a person’s intellect and character.  In the social scene, communication is free flowing. "Hi, how's it goin'?"  "Oh, not too bad, I guess."  "Why don't  we  meet for a drink  after work?"  "Fine, what  time?"  "Say, 5:30'ish?"  "Okay." "See ya then, bye."

The person who can’t speak is excluded from a free-flowing conversation, especially if he or she has other physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. In a first-time encounter, the speaking person is often repelled by the  lack of response from the non-speaking  person,   or by the unfamiliar motions the non-speaking person is attempting to  make.   "Hi, I'm John."  At this point the non-speaking person is immediately at a loss.   Wanting to give the natural reply of, "Hi, I'm  Gertrude,  nice  to meet you," the non-speaking person can only give a smile,  with no words along with it,  except a nod of the head.  The speaking person will likely shy away, and say something like, "Hum,  okay, nice to see you. Bye."  

Diamanti_ltr_board_350.jpg

Communication is the basis for any kind of relationship.  Be it employee to employer, worker to worker, friend to friend, or even stranger to stranger.  People who don’t speak are forced to communicate their words in a much slower and more tedious fashion, which often doesn’t reflect their true personality and character.  

There are many forms of communicating, other than with speech. Awareness and understanding of the person who can’t speak are greatly needed in our community.   Non-communication or impaired communication can be the most severe form of disability, resulting in isolation.  Expressing thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions is what we all need to do with each other.

Diamanti_Broken_Speech_350.jpg

Go back to Stories