The Wheelchair Advantage

Too quick to see disadvantage; Removing the Stumbling Block

At our first night’s seder, my 11-year-old daughter declared her desire to find the afikomen. You see, she informed me, this would be her only chance.

Puzzled, I asked why. After all, we were heading to a friend’s home for the second night, and there would most certainly be an afikomen hunt there, as well.

(Back story: The friends we celebrate Passover with have one son, Josh, who has Cerebral Palsy. I have written about him and my children’s relationship with him before. Our families have been celebrating second seder together for the past few years.)
So I asked my daughter why she believed she would have only one chance to find the afikomen.

“Because,” she said, “Josh always finds it.”

Hmm… “Really?”

“Yes. He always finds it. Because he has an advantage. He has wheels.”

And just like that I was clearly reminded of the importance and power of teaching our children to be accepting of disabilities.

Here’s what my daughter didn’t say:
“It’s not fair; Josh always wins because he’s in a wheelchair.”
“Josh will win; he always wins because his dad pushes him.”
“Josh wins because he gets help.”
Nope. Josh wins because he has the advantage of wheels.

We must teach all of our children to see the world through this lens. We live in a society that is far too quick to see disadvantage. If we are not deliberate, we will miss out on discovering the unique qualities that each of us possesses. 

Josh, in his wheelchair, with Cerebral Palsy and complicated medical issues, has an advantage.

Yes, yes he does.

This story originally ran on Kveller on April 17, 2014

Inclusion Doesn't Happen Down the Hall

Meaningful Engagement; Removing the Stumbling Block

I was fortunate to once again be invited to participate in an Inclusive Class podcast. The hosts, Nicole and Terri, changed the format this year to roundtable discussions. This meant that I had the opportunity to chat with not only Nicole and Terri, but also with Torrie Dunlap, the CEO of Kids Included Together (KIT). It made for a dynamic discussion and it continues to be a pleasure for me to learn from like-minded individuals who care deeply about inclusion and inclusive education.

In preparing for the podcast, I wrote some thoughts:

The two things that are resonating most significantly with me are the title of today’s show: Inclusion Doesn’t Happen Down the Hall and the idea that Torrie raised of “meaningful inclusion”.

I love today’s title, because I often write and speak about the idea that inclusion is not a program. It’s not a classroom in the school or a person or a single event. Rather, inclusion is an attitude, a mindset, a way of thinking about and acting toward others. I work hard to help people realize that there needs to be a culture of inclusion that everyone in a school, community or organization shares. Inclusion will not be successful when it is relegated to one space, one point in time or is given over as one person’s responsibility.

The idea of authentic, or as Torrie suggested, meaningful inclusion, is one that can be hard for people. None of us can determine what meaningful is or means for anyone else - in any area of life. And yet, when it comes to disabilities, this is often exactly what happens. We talk a lot about meaningful engagement in the Jewish world, both with and without discussion of disability inclusion. And what I always come back to is that “meaningful” is unique to each person - so we, as a community, have to be ok with what each person deems as his/her own meaningful engagement, whether we agree or not.

Normal is a Dryer Setting

I've written before about the idea of "normal." I believe it's an arbitrary concept, because what might be normal for you wouldn't necessarily be normal for me. And yet, we use the word all the time. Sometimes in seemingly innocuous ways, and other times in ways to imply that those who do not meet our standards are deficient and lesser.

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