Call Her Capable: Leish Hustles with Chutzpah

What is the best-selling board game in the world? If you guessed Monopoly, you must be sitting pretty with a hotel on Boardwalk. Two-hundred million Monopoly sets have flown off store shelves since 1935. Monopoly is currently available in 26 languages — including Croatian and Icelandic.

This holiday season, however, Oxnard native Carol Leish would like you to consider her board game,  Call Me Capable, ( as you select the perfect present for your favorite teacher. The purpose of the educational game, according to the 40-year-old Leish, is to eliminate or eradicate some of the prejudice commonly exhibited toward people with disabilities.

Leish knows of what she speaks. In 1963, at the tender age of 10 months, she was slumbering serenely in the back of her family’s VW when a drunken driver careened into the vehicle and left the infant girl with brain stem trauma. Unconscious for 10 days, she awakened to permanent damage on the right side of her brain, blindness in her left eye, and speech difficulties that continue to this day. Even after years of therapy, thoughtless individuals presume that her slow, deliberate way of talking (even though every word is enunciated distinctly) is the result of hearing loss or, even more inaccurately (she’s a whiz kid), mental retardation. She’s even been asked, point blank, on more than one occasion, “What’s wrong with you?”

Her antidote for the justifiable anger that boils up after such insensitive remarks is to just express amusement. While “I may be physically disabled,” she says, some folks reveal themselves to be “disabled from the neck up.” A rabid-to-the-max Star Trek fan (as the bumper of her car attests), she claims to have inherited her sense of humor from her father. It’s obvious, however, that Leish has carefully cultivated a drollness that can only be described as deliciously wicked. Her wry wit has even worked itself into some multiple-choice questions found in Call Me Capable.

For example, “Some newer wheelchairs help disabled people get around by using a) electric motors, b) gasoline motors, c) jet engines, or d) mice on a treadmill” may not be politically correct, but it gives nondisabled players permission to laugh as they learn.

In study after study, education experts report that empathy is a particularly difficult concept to get across to students of any age. Call Me Capable poses open-ended questions that fire up players to reconsider preconceived ideas and knee-jerk responses. As they are invited to think about those who face physical, mental and learning challenges — “If you go out to dinner with a friend who is blind and the waiter asks you for your friend’s order, what do you say?” — Leish has discovered that the light eventually dawns.

When a financially challenged Charles B. Darrow showed the prototype of Monopoly to executives at Parker Bros., it was the height of the Depression. The assembled big shots unceremoniously rejected his game, citing 52 so-called “design errors.” Darrow wasn’t daunted.

Neither was Leish. Her bright idea arrived in 1987 while she was working on a master’s degree in education and counseling at California State University, San Bernardino. As she toiled in the trenches as a substitute teacher, Call Me Capable started to evolve. The opportunity for further “field studies” arrived as a part of her in-service training for teachers, medical personnel, social workers and other professionals dealing with the disabled on a daily basis.

Finally, in 1997, when the game was as finely tuned as it was going to get, it was time for a marketing plan. As Zen practitioners will attest, “When the student is ready, the teacher arrives.” Membership in the Ventura County Professional Women’s Network provided her with the education and encouragement she needed to realize her heart’s desire. The last duck to queue up was Franklin Learning Systems. Just in time for the yuletide season, the company stands ready, willing and able to distribute Call Me Capable worldwide via the Web.

Call Carol Leish “capable.” “Irresistible, too,” she adds impishly. Leish considers herself someone “who hustles with chutzpah,” and hustle she does. Her first Call Me Capable royalty check has been duly framed and accorded a place of honor alongside a sparkling tiara, her VCPWN Spirit of Networking Award, and her recognition as an Outstanding Young American by the California Junior Chamber of Commerce.

All of us will face disability someday. Quite uninvited, it will arrive in various guises — courtesy of old age. How will we want to be treated?

In 1970, Parker Bros. came out with the Braille edition of Monopoly. Interestingly enough, those who play Call Me Capable seem to find a new way of seeing.

Can’t we make it a best seller, too?

— Beverly Kelley, who writes every other Monday for The Star, is a professor in the Communication Department at California Lutheran University.

By Beverly Kelley
Ventura County Star
December 16, 2002