Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Walking (or Shobbling) The Advocacy Walk

In one of my lives, I run the social networking for the Federation for Children with Special Needs, a Massachusetts organization that's been fighting for inclusion and awareness for children with disability since before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (enacted in 1975). For their newsletter this month, I wrote a "Voices of Self-Advocacy" article, which I'm reposting here.

The original can be found at Go check out the FCSN out if you've interest, they're a fabulous organization that I love being a part of.

There are two types of advocacy. First, is the type where you talk the talk. Second is the type where you walk, limp, crutch, or my own specialty, a gait my former roommate and I like to call "shobble", the walk. I could always talk the talk. I went to my IEP meetings. I spoke on panels about the power of mainstream education and the importance of accommodation. I believed in adaptive devices, modifications and bending the rules. . . for other people.

I went to a university with gorgeous stair-filled buildings, and all of them on the historic registry in Georgia. Meaning: ADA waving accommodation freaks need not apply. Or so it seemed to me the day I met with admissions. But I fell in love with that University, so off I trekked. While my friends went head-to-head with their university disability coordinators, I supported them whole-heartedly-while dragging myself and my books up three flights of stairs every other day because I didn't want to ask that a class be moved. I never once asked my caring, inspirational professors to meet outside of their third-floor offices. Never thought about demanding the service-elevator key given to broken-legged athletes. I arranged rides to class from my sorority house-a mile down the single road in my small, liberal arts school-rather than ask campus security to help me out.

 In my defense, I am terrified of golf carts.

I made it through four years on a historical, inaccessible, gorgeous campus, with a one-semester stint in Oxford where there were, incredibly, more stairs. I had friends who would have paved a road with starlight if I needed it, but I'd never asked the administration for anything. During my senior year, I volunteered for the same scholarship selection weekend where three years before I had rambled about my advocacy skills and won the grand prize. As I wandered around the hors d'oeurves being served in the library (poor books!), I saw a young girl being helped out of a wheelchair by her mother.

Drawn by the magnetic field that draws all people with disabilities to each other, I joined their picnic on the floor. As it turned out, the girl's brother was applying to the school. She was sixteen and just along for the ride. "Has it been hard?" I asked, thinking of the winding paths around our academic quad.Her face lit up. "Not at all! Everyone has been so nice! But...okay, yeah the service elevator is creepy." I was flabbergasted. And I was proud. Somehow my little school had gone from a "you're on your own" attitude toward people with disabilities, to the welcoming acceptance they gave everyone else.

Had I been a part of that? Had they seen my success and realized it could be done? Maybe. But maybe the attitude change possibility had been there all along. Maybe if I'd just walked the advocacy walk and asked instead of assuming that because nothing was offered, nothing could be had.