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    Crying with Scissors: The Problem with Homogenizing People With Disabilities

                Crying in public school is a bizarre and traumatic experience: it does not provide the desired moment of catharsis but instead immediately makes the crier the center of attention and the receiver of well-intentioned but shallow platitudes.  Such a spontaneous outburst of emotion arises out of the primal need for the expression of some feeling that escapes precise articulation in language.  In my case, I did not cry because I couldn’t adequately cut out a penciled pattern on a piece of bright green construction paper, but because I was worried about the consequences of my failure.  When I was in kindergarten, I spent half the day in a standard classroom, learning shapes and letters, eating cookies, drinking milk, and taking naps.  Once the morning class was dismissed, the other half of my day was spent in a special education classroom, in which I and several other students with varying types of disabilities were expected to execute tasks like cutting, pasting, and coloring.  I was in that class because I needed to put in a full day in order to have the time to receive physical therapy services without disrupting the flow of standard education that I received in the mornings. 

                The special education classroom never made much sense to me.  The students in the classroom seemed to be grouped together haphazardly.  It did not matter if we had a physical disability (like my cerebral palsy), or a learning disability, or a behavioral disability, we were all forced to share the same space and perform the same activity because of some perceived general commonality.  We were all the same in the eyes of the state, somehow.  Worse still, each day was graded according to the equally abstract concepts of happy, sad, ok, or needs improvement.  Naturally, on the day that I lost the battle with the scissors, I was issued a “sad” grade for the day.  I didn’t know what this meant exactly (I still don’t) but it felt as though I had failed in some way that went beyond my ability to cut a damned circle out of a piece of paper.  I was worried that if I couldn’t cut this circle out, that I would be stuck in that room, cutting that circle until I got it right, while the rest of my daytime class continued on learning more shapes and letters without me.  I always felt out of place in the afternoon classroom and preferred to learn in the other class.  There, I had a better sense of exactly what I was learning and I felt like I was part of something.  The special education class never had the same sense of unity or progression.  We were simply performing tasks because we were told to and stopping whenever someone had an occasional outburst.  There were three adults in that afternoon class and I felt their eyes watching all of us, waiting to strike the moment trouble occurred.  I never felt particularly bad about crying but I was afraid of how those three pairs of eyes would react when I did.  I wonder now if this fear of an omnipresent evaluation also hindered me from performing those tasks to the best of my abilities, thus perpetuating and solidifying the terror of being stranded in that room.  Thankfully, my time in the afternoon class didn’t last very long because after kindergarten physical therapy was offered immediately after school, which now lasted a full day.  Based on my performance in the standard class, I was able to integrate into a full classroom schedule in succeeding years.

                Each year, I was subjected to additional psychological and learning tests to ensure that I was absorbing material in the standard educational curriculum, and every year until the end of high school, I felt the same terror that I experienced when I was asked to cut that circle.  “This is the year,” I recall thinking, “The jig is finally up.”  I would be sent back to that classroom, away from the friends I’d made and away from an existence that allowed me to be in charge of my own destiny.  On reflection, I don’t hold the teachers in the afternoon class responsible for these terrors, nor do I hold the psychological or intellectual evaluators in any sort of contempt.  I do, however, remain angry at a system that treats individuals with disabilities indiscriminately and seems to require us to constantly prove our “right” to autonomy.

                My placement in that class was based purely on my physical disability, which had no bearing on my intellectual aptitude.  Still, I was required to be there in order to receive the physical therapy that I needed to treat the manifest symptoms and effects of my cerebral palsy.  That treatment would not have interfered with the day class schedule, so the requirement to attend the special education class was also not based on time conflicts.  I am not indicting special education classes, because they are useful for people who need them, but nothing about my disability suggested that I needed it.  Neither do I believe that the individuals that do need remedial or specialized education are intrinsically inferior to me, or that they should be excluded from the normalized social experience of education.  Those tests and evaluations that I took in succeeding years seemed to be a direct effect of the limited time I spent in that classroom, time which was wasted and unnecessary.  Since I was completing the standard curriculum requirements on time and concurrently, my educators should have seen that I did not need additional evaluation. 

                This system was reprehensible and I have encountered similar institutional policies which seem to treat individuals with disabilities as a homogenous bloc of humanity, instead of as nuanced individuals with specific capabilities and capacities.  Many vocational agencies that I have encountered seem to engage in this behavior, ignoring the reality of my physical disability, which excludes me from performing manual labor.  There does not yet seem to be a way for these agencies to capitalize on the intellectual capacity I offer, insofar as the nature of my physical disability also excludes me from performing jobs of a secretarial nature.  I have the intellectual capacity to perform these jobs, but lack the physical capabilities to accomplish them in a timely fashion.  I do not believe that there is a willful negligence or incompetence present in this process, but rather that institutional policies have not evolved sufficiently enough to allow me to tailor a job search to my abilities.  Consequently, I have made the decision to continue my education in the hopes that going beyond my current bachelor’s degree will open up more employment opportunities.  Still, I am nervous about encountering the problematic mechanics of job performance, even after I obtain a higher degree of education.

                 All these concerns are anchored in the tangible reality that to live, I require the means to be able to hire healthcare assistants and afford medications and therapies.  This reality already puts my cost of living at a higher threshold than what could be sustained at a normal pay grade.  Further, because I cannot find steady, reliable employment through vocational agencies (which are unable to address my specific needs) and my own searching, I must rely on government assistance.  Government programs and assistance do exist, but can become tricky to implement effectively, safely, and in a way that allows me to continue on a path towards financial independence.  In the current political climate, especially in the coming months with the new “super Congress”, these preexisting programs are themselves in danger of dramatic alteration or cessation.  (See my thoughts on this in my previous post)  I have no choice but to continue to try to progress and to document the concerns and problems with the policies that I encounter, in the hopes that in the course of an ongoing national dialogue, things can get better.

    References (4)

    References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
    • Response
      Disabilities can be in any one of us. So, it doesn’t mean that you should start living separately on permanent basis. We can join some special institutes for meeting up our challenges and for moving with the other guys. Hope is the factor which always helps.
    • Response
      It is entirely decent and useful info about "The Problem with Homogenizing People With Disabilities". Keep up composing the colossal work, Good to discover your web. Thanks!
    • Response
      Response: Education
      Once the daybreak class was discharged, the additional half of my daytime was consumed in a singular teaching schoolroom, in which I and numerous other scholars.
    • Response
      Response: explanatory videos
      Testing social frameworks, in which people with disabilities are subordinated through relations that are conflicting to their own perspectives of self, causes people with inabilities to make self-characters that are far expelled from biomedical models that present disability as tragedy.

    Reader Comments (1)

    The system is in such a sad state. It makes no sense at all. My brother had a speech impediment when he was very young and thus was ushered into special education for most of his time in elementary school. At the time he could read just fine for his level, just not aloud because of his problems with speech. I say "at the time" because once he was put in the special education corner he was treated as if he had a learning disability and his education slowed to a crawl.

    It took him a really time to get over that, not only the fact that he was behind, but the psychology behind that type of a label. Being the stupid one, never being as ambitious with his education, not getting the grades, struggling. Even within our family we would say things like "He's so creative. He's so great with people." Which he was, and is, but it was code for unspoken thought, "That's how he makes up for not being as bright as us." Now that I know his background I feel endlessly guilty that I thought this way when I was younger.

    Currently? After struggling and failing at different low level community college courses, he somehow managed to cast off the label. His grades are impeccable now. He's advancing towards a degree in law.

    It's just so sad and crazy how damaging young life can be. It's enraging to think about educators making a decision to retard a young child's education like that. I'm sorry for what you had to go through and the psychological scars it left, but I am so happy your experience did not cripple your ambition.

    August 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteritsbecca

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