On My Soap Box

Adults with Down Syndrome, Advocate, Down Syndrome, Education, Family Challenges, Inclusion, Parents, People with Disabilities, Special Education 3 Comments »

Almost 50 years ago my son Billy was denied entrance into a special education school because he wasn’t 8 years old. We enrolled him in a regular kindergarten class where he blossomed as he interacted with non-disabled children. That started my firm belief in inclusion of children with disabilities into regular classes. After he entered the special school, I continued to seek opportunities for him to participate in non-segregated situations.

I belong to the generation of parents who fought for Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later amended to be called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA). I gladly joined other parents in pushing for this legislation and rejoicing in its passage. Although it was implemented the year that Billy graduated from high school, I knew that many other children would benefit from its mandates.

The principle of PL 94-142 that is used for the rationale for inclusion of students with disabilities into regular classrooms is referred to as Least Restrictive Environment. The mandate states that “To the maximum extent appropriate children with disabilities… are educated with children who are nondisabled…”

Thus it pained me to read the blog of a mother whose child has been denied the benefit of inclusion. Her daughter, who has Down syndrome, had a successful year in kindergarten. It was determined by the mother and the teacher that repeating kindergarten would benefit the child and the Individualized Education Plan was developed on that premise. At the meeting to plan goals for the coming school year, the mother was informed that her child would be placed in a special class for children with severe disabilities (a living skills class) and would not be engaged in any academic activities.

There is an involved process where parents can dispute the decision of the school personnel regarding placement of a child who has disabilities. This parent went through the legal process and was so disappointed and enraged with the school’s point of view that she gave up the fight and decided to home school her daughter.

Research and experience clearly demonstrate that children with disabilities learn more when included in regular classrooms, where they have normal patterns of speech, behavior, and learning to emulate. I believe in this so strongly that I am disappointed in the outcome of this particular case. To add to my dismay, 95 people have commented on this blog, mostly to applaud this mother’s decision.

I must make a plea to these parents who choose not to pursue their rights. If we do not insist on the mandates of IDEA being followed, they WILL disappear. Please, families, stay the course – insist on the best situation for your child. If the school disagrees with you, the success of your child will change their views.

There are many teachers and administrators who are diligent in insuring that children with disabilities are placed in the least restrictive environment and are receiving the services to which they are entitled. These professionals are concerned with providing the best education possible to ALL children.

I’m sure that on Billy’s file there was a stamp that read “Pushy Parent.” Believe me, if I had it to do over, I would have pushed harder. We must be proactive if we wish to secure the rights for our children to have the best education possible.


Adults with Down Syndrome, Community Participation, Diversity, Down Syndrome, Education, Inclusion, People with Disabilities, Uncategorized 4 Comments »

While equal opportunity employment is a vital element in the inclusion of persons with disabilities into the community, there are other important ways to help accomplish this goal. An organization called SHOUT (Students Helping Others Understand Tomorrow) makes a concerted effort to introduce diverse groups of people to selected high school students.

SHOUT is sponsored by the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and is designed to inform future leaders of possibilities for service in the area. For several years, Billy and I have been asked to meet with the group on Diversity Day, one of the five categories in the program. One of the stated goals for this session is: “To initiate, foster, and promote an understanding and appreciation for all people and their unique perspectives and contributions to the world.”

My thrust is the development of attitudes from tolerance to acceptance to celebration of diversity. Billy shows his slides, pointing out the normalcy of his life and the importance of his family. His real message, however takes place during his interaction with the students at lunch time and after the program. Initially reticent, they find that he is easy to talk with and fun to be around. Evaluations referred to it as “an eye-opening day,” stating, “Billy was awesome; it was definitely an amazing experience.” In planning their graduation ceremony, the students asked that Billy hand out their certificates. On the appropriate night Billy, dressed in suit and tie, shook hands and gave out certificates to all the students. At the end of the program, students write letters to thank the session leaders. One letter addressed to me read:

We were very privileged to have you speak to us on Diversity Day. Your presentation was a touching and heartwarming experience. Not only did you show us that you should not be ashamed of or try to hide your differences, but you urged everyone to CELEBRATE what makes them special. I think nearly everyone can agree with you that Billy has a way of teaching people that no one else is capable of. He has an extraordinary gift and that is something to celebrate.On behalf of everyone in the SHOUT program, thank you. We were blessed to have you!

It is a joyful opportunity to be involved with this group – future parents, professionals, and employers.

Do you know of community organizations that encourage and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities? Is there potential in any of your social organizations to develop such ideals?

EXPECTATION: Disability Employment Awareness

Community Participation, Inclusion, Independent Living, People with Disabilities 1 Comment »

Did you know? October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Did you know? In this country there are 54 million people with disabilities.

In 1988 Congress designated each October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. President Obama has issued a similar proclamation, using the occasion to announce several new initiatives.This is an effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment The motto is:

Expectation + Opportunity = Full participation

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a young woman who teaches 7th grade math. Knowing my interest, she told me that she has in her regular classroom a girl who has Down syndrome. During a conference the girl’s mother asked, “What do we need to teach our daughter so she can work at McDonald’s?” The teacher responded indignantly, “She won’t be working at McDonald’s! She is one of my best students and she will have many opportunities.”

Now, that’s expectation.

Check out who we’re talking about:

The newly launched Campaign for Disability Employment has produced a public service announcement that showcases the workplace skills and talents of people with disabilities. View it yourself and help spread the word about this important campaign by clicking here.

Do you have experiences and observations about people with disabilities in the working place? I would love to hear from you.

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