Saturday, April 14, 2007

I have been doing disability awareness in elementary schools since 1990. I was a coordinator of Keys to Introducing Disabilities in Schools (KIDS)for a couple years. When grants became scarce, KIDS merged with another disabilty awareness group--Disability Awareness Network (DAWN). A few years ago, Sue Racanelli, the coordinator, asked us to write what disability awareness means to us. I have been asked to read my mini essay at the annual luncheon this year. Here is what I wrote:

Disability awareness means...
... entering a class room of students ages 5 - 11 and seeing the wide-eye anticipation, the elbow nudging, the whispers and pointed fingers as I position my power chair in front of the class.
...catching that fleeting look from those students who have been taught that it is impolite to stare, yet finding it difficult not to look at the oddity before them.
...having the room of small individuals struggling to sit quietly as I, the person in the wheelchair, explain how I am more alike than different from them by sharing the need to have friends with whom I can talk, listen, and have fun.
...seeing cold stares of bewilderment melt into intent looks of interest and amazement as I inform them that I live alone in a mobile home (with my service dog, Andre, and my Himalayan cat, Pearl), work a full time job, drive a car, and like to snow ski.
...sitting before a sea of high, outstretched arms with waving hands as the students, who are hungry to learn more, insist on being acknowledged so they can ask their burning questions: how do you get in bed?; how do you take a shower?; what size shoe do you wear?; or, what is your favorite color?
...closing the presentation with the students eagerly circling around me to thank me for coming by shaking my hand or giving me a hug and telling me they want to be my friend.
...that the room I once entered as an oddity I am now leaving as a friend.
...being recognized and greeted by a student six months later in Walmart and have the student introduce me to the accompanying parent.
...the small people with whom I share my life experiences will in the future be parents, neighbors, doctors, teachers, architects, employers, and community leaders. My hope is that I have done something today to bridge the gap of understanding between people with disabilities and the people that may enter their lives tomorrow.

No comments: