Have you seen this prom story? It's been making the rounds of the Internet and has been shared by many, including a number of disability inclusion advocates that I respect. It's a sweet story about friends going to the prom together. And everyone loves a feel good story, right? But this one actually frustrates the heck out of me. Why? Because it's not news, or at least it shouldn't be.
You see, a boy made a promise to a friend in fourth grade to take her to prom. And he followed it through. That should actually be the story, but it's not, at least it’s not the whole story: "It's just another boy-meets-girl story, right? Hang on: There's more to it than that. Mary has Down syndrome, and Ben is the quarterback of his high school's football team." So what? This should be all about a sweet promise made by a fourth grade boy, but this story's "hook" is that the young friend who was asked to prom has Down Syndrome and the boy is now the captain of the football team.
What's the message here? That football players don't date people with Down Syndrome? Ugh.
Now to be fair, I love some of what I read: "Ben and Mary remain firm in their belief that there's nothing particularly noteworthy or extraordinary about their relationship. Ben sees the humanity in Mary (and vice versa), and the two are content to leave it at that." Good. That's the way it should be. That's inclusion at its best. And to be sure, I find no fault in the kids themselves. My frustration is, once again, in the way our media spins disability, for better or for worse.
I realize that in some ways I'm playing with a double-edged sword. I want stories like this to just be...not as news headlines but simply a part of every day life. And yet, I realize that this is a big deal in places where inclusion isn't happening. And so if it's not talked about, how will others learn from such a lovely example. But still...
By the way, in my neck of the woods this is happening without the fanfare. A senior from my congregation (who happens to have autism) took a junior from the congregation (who happens to not have autism) to his prom. No extra fanfare, no media coverage...just two friends happily headed to prom together. Which leaves me feeling hopeful.
This has to be happening more often, right?