Participation and inclusion really affect a student’s life with a disability. I have a story about my high school years. On my first day of high school, I was exceedingly nervous. There was a sense of fear that I would never be accepted. In elementary school, I became accustomed to people staring at me because I was in a wheelchair. I used to tell them to take a picture because it lasted longer. Sometimes the simplest things can serve as social icebreakers. I had a New York Yankees sticker on the side of my wheelchair this created a great rivalry among the Philadelphia Phillies fans at school.
Acquaintances developed simply because people were curious about my motorized chair. The awkwardness disappeared. Eventually, the students accepted me. My academic integration into the school was successful. I did not participate in afterschool or social activities because it was too difficult for my parents to get me later. If I could have joined a club, that would increase participation and inclusion among the students.
One of my biggest desires in high school was to have a job and earn some money. My father advised me to focus on my studies. He told me that economic success would eventually come. Sadly, it did not arrive. If I had money and transportation social participation would be easier. These elements from my own life story illustrate the problems for individuals with disabilities, who are attempting to fully participate in society and get the most out of life. I was able to fully participate in the academic life of the school because the educational process was very inclusive.
A Change of Heart Required
Society must change its perspective with regard to any oppressed minority if it intends to achieve full participation and inclusion. It doesn’t matter whether the prior discrimination was based on disability race age or sex. A change of heart is needed to make society more inclusive and allow individuals with disabilities to fully participate. If there is no change of heart, people with a disability always will be isolated and kept on the side.
Adults Are Inhibited – Children Are Honest
I used to enjoy traveling around my neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Adults were always inhibited in the sense that they were reluctant to ask questions concerning my disability. Children had no difficulty asking questions because they have not yet been schooled in society’s norms. I was always willing to answer the questions of small children because I believe that their questions were based on a sincere desire to know why I was in a wheelchair.
My problem was that I would always make my explanation too complicated, so the children didn’t quite understand what I was saying. The mainstreaming has increased due to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It has increased the participation of students with disabilities in education. It is my belief that increased participation and inclusion has increased the opportunities for students with disabilities to become active participants in school. In my experience, children have honest hearts and would not think twice about the participation and inclusion of the person with a disability.
My Friend’s Approach
My friend, David Singer, had a much better approach – he would simply tell the children that he had broken both of his legs and was unable to walk. As opposed to going into a complicated explanation of what cerebral palsy is. His approach seemed to work better and satisfy the children’s curiosity. In the end,! understanding will lead to full inclusion and participation.
Society, in general, needs a better understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities. It is incumbent upon persons with disabilities to fully explain their needs. Persons with disabilities must become their own advocates. Integration would occur automatically almost as a matter of course if there were a change of heart and full understanding. Society’s failure to integrate persons with disabilities in the past was based upon a lack of understanding. It is our goal to increase the participation and inclusion of individuals with disability into all facets of society.
One reason for my lack of economic success, as an attorney, was the lack of social and economic contacts. As persons with disabilities, when they become more integrated into society, they will develop contacts. As social media grows, it will help people with disabilities to reach out and have more involvement with others.
Progress is Being Made
Society has been making progress toward full integration and participation of individuals with disabilities act, over the last 30 years with the passage of the Americans With Disabilities. Under this act, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for otherwise qualified individuals with a disability. I believe that one of the reasons I did not gain employment in the legal profession is the amount of physical assistance I needed. It simply did not pay for the employer to hire two persons in order to accomplish one job. It is my hope that improvements in technology will alleviate the need for persons with disabilities to have assistance on the job.
Adequate Cost-effective and Timely Transportation
The lack of transportation is one of the biggest barriers for individuals with disabilities. Persons with disabilities need cost-effective and timely transportation in order to attend work, school, or doctors appointments. I live in a rural area of southern New Jersey with very limited access to public transportation. Sadly I am very dependent upon my mother and sisters to get me from place to place. It would be fantastic to live in a city like Chicago with accessible taxis.
Greater understanding of networking and transportation will achieve full participation in the integration of individuals with disabilities. It is important to participate in the political process and lobby for the things that we need such as attendant care and affordable transportation. I strongly urge that individuals with disabilities be their own advocate. Clearly articulate your needs and act with relentless determination to achieve your goals.