Prom Inclusion - Is It Really Happening? How Often?


Prom inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

Prom season. Happens every year. And every year we see "feel good" stories like this. These stories make the rounds of the Internet and get shared by many, including respected disability inclusion advocates. They are sweet stories about friends going to the prom together. And everyone loves a feel good story, right? But these actually frustrate 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.  

Here's another. I took it to a Facebook group with some amazing like-minded disability inclusion advocates and they had strong reactions, too:

"I, for one, really dislike these stories (aka "inspiration porn"). It's not really inclusion and it's celebrating the other people for being inclusive, during one snapshot in time. What happens every other day? Just my two cents."

"This, much like the basketball player with a disability that gets in the game at the end of the game and becomes a viral video, also rubs me the wrong way. I have nothing against the person that did the promposal as he likely has an incredible relationship with this family and sees the girl as a real friend (although I have no idea... just an assumption) but I do have a problem when this goes viral (as it is far from inclusion when this occurs). In my experience, inclusion is best when you hardly notice it. When clips like this are shared simply because a child has a disability, are we moving forward or spinning our wheels?"

"I think it is often a dilemma too because as much as I feel the way I stated, these stories do bring smiles... but I hope that one day these are not news stories and are just how we do things!" 

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 can be a big deal in places where inclusion isn't happening at all. And so if it's not talked about, how will others learn? 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?

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