Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Abelism in schools

"AbleismdiscriminationAbleism, type of discrimination in which able-bodied individuals are viewed as normal and superior to those with a disability, resulting in prejudice toward the latter."
  1. (of a person, group, or concept) treated as insignificant or peripheral.
    "members of marginalized cultural groups"

Let me preface this by saying I LOVE our school district. Our district has provided amazing services to the students in our household, during incredibly difficult circumstances. Our children each came with unique needs that most school districts have never encountered As a team we have worked together, building IEPs , and professional relationships, that assured the needs of our children would be met. We have formed personal relationships with staff, who clearly love our children as much as we do.

Even in the best district, there is room for improvement.

Today I learned just how easily our children with disabilities can be marginalized by people who don't even realize they are doing it. Let me back up to last year.

One day last spring Axel came home school quite sad. Because he has limited communication, it took a bit for me to understand why. Axel was part of a dance class at school. Over the weekend there had been a performance he'd missed. I felt terrible! I must have missed the communication about the program, and because of that he had missed the performance. Poor Axel! Mom dropped the ball.

This year  daughter Audrey participates in the same dance class. Earlier in the week I was asked if she would be "coming to watch" the dance program on Sunday. I was confused. What dance program? Today I learned the dance class was having a performance and Audrey, along with the other special ed students in the class, were "invited to come watch."

Wait. What?

Now I understand what happened with the performance Axel missed last year!

Yes, they were invited to come watch the program. They were not invited to participate in the program because the teacher felt they "didn't know the steps well enough." This is supposed to be a fully inclusive class. A "fully inclusive" class means that a student's disability does not matter. The fact a participant with severe autism cannot learn all the steps doesn't matter. If the student is a participant in the class, the student participates in the performance!

My children, and the other special education students in this class were marginalized, and made to feel they are not good enough because their disabilities prevent them from learning all the steps in the class. They were completely excluded. They have listened to talk about the program, and were no doubt getting excited about it, only to find out they're not actually allowed to participate!

What about the other, non-disabled students in the class? What were they thought? They were taught it is ok to marginalize those who have disabilities. They were taught that if you are not "good enough", you will be left behind, and the adults around them support that attitude. But don't worry, you will be invited to sit in the audience and watch your classmates perform. You must aspire to be "normal" in order to be good enough to perform.

An inclusive dance class should not be about what is being done to help the person with a disability participate in the class. It should be about how ALL the students participate in the class together, as a group of dancers.

To quote Inclusion Strategist Verna Myers, "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance."


Cindy said...

Wow! They allow the students in the class, but not the performance?! If there were tryouts for the performance and both typical students and disabled students didn't make the cut, that's understandable. But what that teacher did was just wrong.

Mr. Steelo said...

It breaks my heart to hear this. I teach at a performing arts school and I have not and would not exclude. I had several Autistic and Cerebral Palsy kids and you know what one of my fondest memories are? We were at a choir competition that did not have wheelchair access. I grabbed my student up out of the chair and took him on stage. When I picked him up, he smiled. I'll never forget that smile. He knew he was included. I am so sorry and it makes me mad.