I missed "Blogging Against Disablism" Day last year, but here goes...
I kept going back and forth as to whether this would be a "sister" post or a "teacher" post, and it's kind of become both. It's also something I've briefly ranted about before, so pardon that.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was the first or second assembly of the year, during my second year of teaching. I had a student who could be severely self-injurious (he would hit his head and chin until he bled), but he would be much less likely to injure himself if he had a string of beads to fidget with.
So, I take my motley crew to the assembly. This particular student squeaked a few times and flicked his beads. Scissor Girl probably vocalized some. I wouldn't be surprised if Millionare Boy (the Who Wants to be a Millionaire fan) hadn't, at the least, laughed loudly at the wrong time once or twice.
Meanwhile, the two fourth grade classes (one of whom would become Sixth Grade Teacher JT's nightmare class of last year) were chattering with each other and needing redirections. Ditto the fifth and sixth graders.
Who knows what the assembly was about?
That has been erased from my mind by what happened next: Former Principal SW and Sixth Grade Teacher JT both approached me about the student and his beads, saying that they were disruptive and that maybe he shouldn't go to assemblies anymore.
His beads. His string of costume jewelry beads.
The other kids were loud.
The other kids needed to be shushed.
The other kids were inattentive and difficult.
S did not hit himself. S did not start crying/moaning as he would do during a panic attack.
S held a string of freaking beads and flicked them up by his right eye.
There's this ridiculous, horrible double standard when it comes to kids with disabilities. If other kids misbehave at an assembly, they get a talking to -- perhaps even detention or something -- but no one says, "Well, no more assemblies for you."
And yet, if a child with autism, severe developmental disabilities, and an anxiety disorder WHO WOULD HAVE OTHERWISE BEEN BUSY GIVING HIMSELF A CONCUSSION flicks some beads to calm himself, he shouldn't come to assemblies anymore.
It's ridiculous and it's unfair.
And it points to something even more fundamental: people with disabilities are still expected to earn the right to be with others. S had to earn the right to be at an assembly, and the only way he could do that was to sit at the assembly without any support or accommodations.
The thing is, S had the right to attend the assemblies. S had the right to sit there with his beads and flick them to his heart's content (to be fair, in the interests of full disclosure, if he'd have had a panic attack, I'd have escorted him outside because that would have been too loud -- and, more to the point, his anxiety would have just increased until he was somewhere with less stimulation).
Let me say that again: S had the right to be there at that assembly, even if he needed a 99% inconspicuous comfort object to maintain his composure during the assembly. Would I have let him take something truly loud? No, but that's my job as a teacher -- to find ways to help him cope that are as quiet and inconspicuous as possible.
For the record, our new principal, Principal SDF, has commented on how much she likes the fidgets bag I bring to assemblies. And, yes, sometimes someone will put one of our vibrating thingies on the floor and make a little noise (at that point, it's replaced with a different fidget), but no one says anything about it.
But this is an attitude that is still way too prevalent. It's not expected that kids (or adults) with disabilities are entitled to experiences like that. It's still something they have to earn -- something others are given as a matter of course.
Disability is often an "accident of birth" -- and as Americans, we should be beyond assigning social categories because of accidents of birth.
See y'all at the next assembly.