Typical reactions to disabilities usually fall in to two camps; over-sympathetic or over-apathetic.  With so many generations of people raised under social stigmas, we have traditionally divided populations that are different.  By way of our societies weak assumptions, and fears, we have forcefully segregated our populations because of race, creed, age, religion, and gender.  Yet, despite the fact our nation has seen that division of our population brings us down, and even though we have amended our constitution to bring rights to populations once denied, we continue to repeat our mistakes through the treatment of people with disabilities.Often divided, or more accurately excluded, people with disabilities are frequently strong-armed into living a life outside of mainstream society.  Take Henry, for example.  Henry is an autistic boy who communicates using a computer.  He is also a self-advocate, despite his young age.  Henry wants to go to school with his peers, but has been denied because of his disability.  Instead, Henry is forced to attend a school for kids with special needs.  No one is arguing that kids with disabilities need classroom interventions and supports that neurotypical children do not need, but must we force a willing and capable learner to segregate from the “normal” population against his own will?

Many adults I talk with argue that inclusion is cruel and that children with disabilities simply cannot get all they need in inclusion classrooms.  This is not the first time we have used this approach in education.  Remember Lester Maddox?  He believed in separate but equal, and was very outspoken about it.  He believed, as did many in our nation, that Blacks were not as capable as Whites, and therefore needed special schools to accommodate them.  Remember Ross Barnett?  He did everything he could to refuse admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.  These beliefs about Blacks being lesser grew from fear and ignorance, not from absolute fact.

For people with disabilities, society uses everything from wheelchairs to MRIs in order to support their notion of the separate but equal approach in special education.  People with disabilities, like myself, fight everyday for our square of earth and our voices to be heard.  We own businesses, we hold college degrees, we advocate, and we live full, rich lives.  We yearn for a day when we are not seen as three-fifths a person.

The fight is paying off.  This generation has seen more inclusion than any generation previous.  Seniors this year are graduating in a nation with our second-term Black President, Barack Obama; with an openly gay Episcopal Bishop, Gene Robinson; and a female, double-amputee veteran of war as US Representative, Tammy Duckworth.  These amazing achievers fill me with a powerful drive and a sense of dignity that I have been denied most of my life.

I must say I felt honored when I was invited to moderate a discussion at Paideia School in Atlanta by high school senior and activist, Susannah.  She has organized the Dignity Revolution Film Festival to advocate for the dignity of every person, regardless of ability.  I am proud to do my part and feel a renewed energy knowing that this generation is “getting it” about disabilities and they are not afraid to take action and speak loudly.

Join us for a great day of celebration and awe.  I hope to see you there!

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