I recently saw a photo posted on Facebook that has been haunting me since I first saw it. It’s a picture of an elementary school class practicing for an upcoming chorale concert. Everyone is sitting together on the bleachers of an auditorium, except for one student who is sitting all by himself, a few feet away from his peers. He is not sitting in the bleachers because he is sitting in his wheelchair with his head bowed down low, as if he were ashamed. His teacher did not have the intelligence, compassion, or simple common sense to know she should seat all of the class together, perhaps on folding chairs on the floor, so this student could sit with his peers. Shame on her for what may be a traumatizing experience for a boy who deserves respect and dignity. Shame on her indeed.
When I was in the second grade, I needed to begin wearing glasses. At that time the only frame for eyeglasses available for girls my age were blue with sparkling “diamonds” in each corner. I was mortified because I knew I was the only child in the second grade that needed to wear glasses. My second grade teacher, a kind and thoughtful woman, bought a book about the adventures of an extraordinary little girl who wore glasses. She read the book aloud to my class. I remember listening intently to her, and after she finished reading I felt very proud to be wearing my new glasses. Many years have passed, yet I always remember her with great affection because of her kindness. Despite my limitation of having poor eyesight, my teacher helped me to keep my self-esteem intact.
Living with a disability involves three things. One is what happens on the “inside” of us, such as pain or numbness. These issues aren’t apparent to the outside world. The second part of living with a disability is what is on the “outside.” If someone uses a cane, a leg brace or a wheelchair, this is immediately apparent to the outside world. The third is what can happen to our spirit: embarrassment, humiliation, desperation, isolation and depression.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, government activities, public accommodations and all forms of communication. In school children may obtain an Individualized Education Program (IEP) where, if a child qualifies, there are legal parameters the school must abide by so each child will receive an inclusive education. Teachers and administrators must be well versed on each child’s IEP, such as extra time allowed on tests, permission to use a calculator on a math test, arranging for the IEP student to sit with his peers during lunch time.
I wish there were a third set of laws enacted to protect our spiritual health.
Despite all of the laws put into place to protect those of us living with a disability there are still great daily injustices that we sometimes face. People living without a disability may never consider the inequities or challenges we face. It would be eye-opening if people could walk in someone else’s shoes for one day so they might better understand how others must live. If they did, perhaps they would acquire compassion, patience and a new understanding of what life with a disability is like. Perhaps the world could finally become a place where tolerance was the rule and where people would look out more for the other guy. Let me go one step further: perhaps if the teacher who allowed her student to sit apart from his peers could spend one day using a wheelchair, she could finally understand what his world is like, and realize what she did to him was wrong. Hopefully she would understand that we live in a world with disabled people and therefore we must, together, remove all barriers – whether they are physical or emotional - for everyone.
Published On: April 17, 2012