People aren’t always nice. Growing up with a disability, I have learned to try to understand where people are coming from before I judge their intent because often they don’t mean to be mean. With citywide changes in special education underway, I am concerned that this lesson is one many kids will have to learn, and fast.
Here are two small examples from my life to make my point: Last fall, I was walking to the corner pizzeria on the block of my school, when I was stopped by group students from the neighboring school. The students began to imitate my “C.P. walk”
Instead of getting upset, I convinced myself that the students had never met someone with cerebral palsy. I convinced myself the same thing, after I had a surgery and was rolling around New York City with two casts on my legs. Two women handed me $40, each.
“Buy yourself something nice,” they said before one of the women began to cry. I went to the movies and then I opened a savings account with the rest.
These are less serious examples than what a student with physical disabilities faces every day. As New York City rolls out its efforts to expand inclusion classes, and provide special education services at neighborhood schools, I am worried about the disabled students who may be more exposed to potentially hurtful comments, more hurtful than the examples I’ve shared. One of the main changes involves enrolling students with disabilities in schools where no special education students have attended before, and encouraging schools to put disabled students in the most inclusive, mixed classrooms possible.
While I support the changes, I believe there should be more training of teachers and students about how to handle potentially difficult situations in inclusion classes.
I worry about bullying and intimidation, by non-disabled students and by teachers. It’s happened to me but I know how to stand up for myself. I am an active student advocate. Among other roles, I serve as the student representative on the Citywide Council on Special Education which advises the city on its reforms.
My concern about vulnerable students led me to Professor Celia Oyler, co-director of the Inclusive Classrooms Project. She shares my belief in the power of self advocacy and together we have decided to launch a student advocacy group focused on disability rights.
The group will meet for the first time later this month. I hope students — with and without disabilities — will join us as we start helping special education students speak up for themselves.
If you are interested in learning more about the Inclusive Classrooms Project please email email@example.com.
SchoolBook is following closely the implementation of changes to special education to the city schools. For our most recent report, click here.