Saturday, July 24, 2010

People first

I don't usually do this, but I am taking part in a blog "community" post today. It's one that I'm somewhat passionate about, and when I saw it, I thought it would be great for me to do. The blog day (I guess is what it's called) is "People First: Empowering people with disabilities."

So I will start with telling you some things you didn't already know about me. From sixth grade until I graduated high school I spent every study hall I would've had helping out in a special education classroom of some sort. Our school system called the program peer tutoring. I loved it, and was fairly passionate about these wonderful friends of mine being treated with kindness, dignity, and respect by other classmates. So by the time I graduated high school I had decided I wanted to go into special education. I went to college majoring in Special Education: deaf education and severe and profound disabilities. Once I got into some of the work though it became obvious to me that although I loved the work I had done in the past, I would not like the teaching aspect. So I changed majors, and continued to work doing respite care for a few different families part time. I believe that God has put this specific thing on my heart, and in me for a reason. Now obviously sitting here as the parent of a child with special needs I could say that's it. But in reality I think there is more. I think that there are so many families out there who are part of faith communities and end up leaving because they have a child that nobody else knows how to help care for. I have heard of a few churches that have started ministries for these families, but in reality I know a church may not realize that the parents of an autistic boy haven't been able to sit through a service in years. Their son is not functional enough to go to Sunday school with his peers, and there is nothing else available for them. (This is a completely made up scenario, I don't specifically know anyone in this situation).

So from my story I will go into the idea behind the title. First of all the word retarded; just don't use it. Yes there are people who are mentally retarded, and people with growth retardation. But few people use this word that way. Although at this point we are fairly certain that Abigail will not have the label, I also have a suspicion that her disorder will get her called that word. So if you use it, or your kids do, make an effort not to, and teach them why it's inappropriate.

Notice in those last few lines I said people who are...instead of mentally retarded people. That is people first language. Simple as that. Just remember that whomever is a person before they are a disability. So it would be a person with a disability, not a disabled person. Make sense?

Beyond that if you don't personally deal with anyone with special needs, I would recommend you take a few moments to do something to help you understand. Try pulling up your states laws for an IEP (a plan put in place for school aged children with special needs) and think about parents, teachers, therapist, doctors, and anyone else who is trying to navigate all of it. To the people who know the laws it's fine, but when a parent finds them self in a situation they've never dealt with the IEP process can be overwhelming.

Go to your local grocery store, and if there are multiple wheel chairs available to borrow, try navigating the store in it. Try getting everything you need independently. Can you do it without standing up? Is it harder than you thought it might be. There may even be someone you know that you've never felt comfortable asking them what it's like for them. Ask. It will make you a much more empathetic person if you understand what it's like. And perhaps there is a family you know with a kiddo with special needs. See if they have been able to get out at all...lots of families have trouble finding someone else who's willing to take on their child for a few hours. It might be a lot of work. But the parents will be more grateful than you could ever imagine. :)

Remember that we all have abilities as well as disabilities, but we are people first. America has come a long way in being accessible to people with special needs, but there is room left to travel. Can you do something to help?

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