While working on my previous post, a thought came into my mind: how I was branded and put into a box due to my disability while I was at school – starting from middle school all the way through college years. I’m only speaking of my experiences as a school girl in Canada, because in Israel, where I came from, it’s completely different. Mind you, I graduated college 7 years ago, so things might be different as of now. Nonetheless, I wanted to shed some light into the matter. So without further ado, here’s a list of issues I’ve faced while I was at school due to my disability:
Grouping Disabled People Together
I remember my first day at school here in Canada as though it was just yesterday. Even though I was a young pre-teen at the time, I remember that day so vividly that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it even if I tried to. Everyone, including my teachers, guidance counselor, and fellow students welcomed me with open arms. I felt the warmth as soon as I entered the school building at 8:30 AM. By lunchtime, however, I was extremely disappointed.
I was practically forced by a teacher to spend my lunch with a classmate who had Down Syndrome. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have the outmost respect for people who have Down Syndrome or any other disability and/or illness. But just because two people are disabled, it doesn’t mean they have anything in common. It doesn’t mean they will be friends. And it certainly should absolutely be frowned upon for teachers to group disabled people together just because they’re disabled. Disabled people ARE, in fact, capable of making their own decisions. I certainly was, always have been, and always will be.
I was ready to sit and chat with people I felt I connected with, but I was instead practically ordered by a teacher to spend the hour with someone who was assumed to be someone like me when she really wasn’t. Let me tell you, it was the weirdest, most awkward hour of my entire life. I never spent another lunchtime with my fellow disabled classmate. I was nice and respectful towards her, but I didn’t feel the need, nor the urge, to be friends with her.
Branding Disabled People As Just That
I’ve always been honest with everyone in my life, most importantly with myself, that I never ever want to be branded and known as ‘that girl who has a disability.’ Cerebral palsy, and now epilepsy, has been a part of my life. But it’s not my life. It certainly affects my life, but I shouldn’t be defined by my disability. I’ a woman first and foremost. I can do the exact same things as an able-bodied person does, but differently.
Sadly, most of society doesn’t think that way. No matter how mild my own disability might be, most people just see me as ‘that disabled girl’ when they look at me. They see disability first and a woman second. Some, like my own father-in-law, don’t see me as a woman at all. Those that do see me as a woman first are my friends, and I can count the number of friends I have on one hand. For me, it’s quality over quantity when it comes to friendships.
School, teachers and administrators more like, definitely saw me as ‘that disabled girl.’ One of my college professors, in particular, declared me as an example of a disabled person when making her point during a lecture. While doing so, she bluntly told a whole class of 30 or so people of me having cerebral palsy. I felt absolutely blindsided by her deed. It’s not like I believed that no one in the class knew I had a disability. I can’t even hide it even if I wanted to. It’s a physical disability, and I’m completely aware of that. But that didn’t mean she had to make my private matter so private.
After doing some much needed thinking and talking things over with my parents and my boyfriend at the time, I decided to have a talk with the professor and tell her how I felt about what she did. We had a mutual understanding and she never did that again. Knowing my boundaries and communicating them, even with a teacher, made all the difference in the world.
The Services That Are Provided To Disabled People Are Crap
This is a big one for me. It was a huge issue for me in both high school years and college years, but especially my college years. In high school, I was given services through their special-ed department that I had absolutely no need for. Other disabled people who had more severe cases than I did would’ve found these services useful, but not me. I was given those services because it was in their file that I had cerebral palsy, and therefore, I was put in a box. I never used these services even though I was constantly reminded of them and encouraged to use them. Nonetheless,, and to the administrative team’s surprise, I graduated high school and went on to college.
College was nothing like high school for me, and it was there that I actually needed help and guidance. There was a disability services department at the college where people with disabilities could speak to their assigned disability counsellor about any issue throughout their time attending the school. I saw mine right before I began my studies at the college and got red flags right away. I didn’t know what it was about her, but I just had an iffy feeling about seeing her again.
I was encouraged to go see her again years later when I was finishing my program and wanted to discuss my options for the future as I considered applying to get a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources. That same disability counsellor I saw years prior opened up my file, looked at my marks, and said to my face, ‘Just forget about that little dream of yours. You’ll never achieve it. You have cerebral palsy, so be happy you’re getting something.’
I never reported or made a complaint about what had happened. Instead, I came out of the disability counsellor’s office and said to myself, ‘I’ll show THAT bitch!’ And I did exactly that with the help of my boyfriend at the time. I ended up improving my marks, being accepted into the Bachelor’s degree, and graduating from that degree with a B average. The next time my program coordinator encouraged me to go to the disability services department again for a different matter, I told him about what had happened, and it was then that the disability counsellor got fired from her job.
There’s absolutely nothing for me to say about how the school system treats people with disabilities except for what I’ve already said. Things need to change, and hopefully, they already did. People with disabilities, no matter what these disabilities might be, are people too. They deserve respect, integrity, and dignity.