My Dreams of Inclusion
BY MADDIE KISER (Age 15, St. Louis Missouri)
Which is easier: to build a ramp or open a mind? "I have a dream of inclusion" mainly because of my personal life experiences. Two members of my family are people with disabilities. My aunt uses a wheelchair due to the fact that she is a C5-C6 quadriplegic and my younger brother has a profound mental retardation. People with any of the three types of disabilities, physical, sensory and cognitive/behavioral face attitudinal and architectural barriers every day of their lives; I know this because I have seen these barriers first hand. Physical barriers force my aunt to leave a public place because it isn’t structurally accessible. As for the other barrier, people’s attitudes, whenever my family goes out anywhere, my little brother receives countless stares. These barriers set limits and create needless conflicts, not only for the person with the disability, but also for his or her family, and for the potential in the individual with the disability that society refuses to see. These barriers must be eliminated now.
People with physical disabilities face architectural barriers almost everywhere, but there are ways to overcome these obstacles. All public facilities should have ramp access with railings for safety. Ramps do not only benefit people who use wheelchairs or people with disabilities, but they also benefit other members of the community, like senior citizens or young children who have a hard time walking up stairs. Multi-level public buildings, especially in heavily populated areas, should be required to install elevators or a lift of some sort, and there should be signs pointing to accessible entrances. Public places must have accessible bathroom stalls, because people with disabilities shouldn’t have to leave just because they have to use the restroom. Transportation should also be made accessible, whether that means making aisles ands seats bigger in planes, or installing lifts onto public buses. Disabilities shouldn’t stop people from being able to get where they want to go. There should also be more accessible parking spaces. I remember many times, when traveling with my aunt, that we couldn’t stay, because the accessible parking spots were taken.
Another type of disability is sensory, which makes it hard for people to communicate. Yet there are a few steps we could take to include people with a sensory disability in everyday life. For example, the media could do more things to help with inclusion. Newspapers and magazines could be printed in Braille, and all that a person would have to is dial a phone number and request periodicals in Braille. Also businesses, like restaurants could have menus in Braille or pictures of food items.
The last type of disability is cognitive and behavioral. This is the hardest disability to educate people about because often these disabilities cannot be seen. These disabilities affect how you think or talk. Unfortunately in society, when you don’t talk in a "normal way," people think you are stupid. As an example, people with cerebral palsy (which can affect speech) continuously have problems in society because they have problems talking on the phone or in public. Just because a person’s voice sounds different, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t want access to the amenities in his or her community. The person on the other end of the line often makes an assumption about the person and hangs up. This prejudice is directly related to employment opportunities.
If employers educated employees to be more receptive to the disabled they could gain more business. People in the workplace need to be educated about different disabilities and about the do’s and don’ts of interacting and communicating with people that have disabilities. More education about disabilities must be provided in ways such as T.V. campaigns. Furthermore, being better educated helps everyone in the community, including businesses. In addition, people with disabilities should have equal access in the workplace. All Americans should be judged by their abilities and given an opportunity to contribute to our nation’s work force. The presumption that people with disabilities are either incapable or less capable of work is illogical. Employers could provide special training for people with disabilities. As an example, employers could set up their place of business with special adaptations for people who are deaf. The TTY device, a typewriter that is hooked into the phone, could make it possible for people who have hearing impairments to answer phones.
A final area that could be more accessible is education. Whether this is at home or at school, all children need to be included. Kids are taught by example. If a parent of a child with a disability doesn’t stand up for him/her, how will the child? Parents need to advocate for and empower their own children with or without disabilities. On the other hand, parents who have no experience with people with disabilities should encourage themselves and their children to be open minded and receptive to all of society’s members. I have encountered many children who are extremely ignorant when it comes to people with disabilities. I can recall one time when my brother and I were sitting in a car, in a parking lot, and a little girl walked by the car. She looked at my brother and then said to her mother, "Hey mom look at that weirdo." Classrooms and schools need to make adjustments, however big or small, like building ramps or installing elevators because people with disabilities want to learn too. Teachers should become educated and receive disability training to meet the needs of unique students. Teachers could find innovative ways to communicate on a one-to-one basis with each student with a disability like special materials, books in larger print, oral tests, more test time, an aide, extra time to learn as needed or anything else a child requires. Interpreters or signers should be provided for those that can’t hear or verbally communicate, and Braille materials could be made available for the blind. Adaptations should be made so a kid with a disability can participate in extracurricular clubs and activities too.
By now you’re probably thinking I am idealistic; all this will cost too much money. To that I say, how ironic. In the richest and most privileged country in the world, how can we be so self-centered? If America supposedly represents the quintessence of freedom, then why aren’t people with disabilities free from the barriers that they are forced to face everyday? The time for excuses has passed.
I have many "dreams of inclusion" for people with disabilities be they physical, sensory or cognitive/behavioral, everyone wants to be included. People with disabilities want equal access to education, employment opportunities, and even the ability to utilize recreation facilities. The changes and adaptations that need to be made will be costly, but in the long run, they are worth it. Until a disability hits home, those in charge forget about a population they can become a member of in a split second. I hope some day all barriers, architectural and attitudinal, will be eliminated, so my aunt can go somewhere without having to call ahead of time or so my brother can be just another kid in the crowd. I hope someday that there is a universal acceptance for everyone, with or without a disability. Katie Banister, my aunt in the wheelchair and an advocate for disability awareness, once told me, "The nicest thing you can say to a person with a disability is hello." My personal experiences with disabilities have enabled me to be more understanding and tolerant of other people and more appreciative of how lucky I am. Many people think that being associated with a disability or a person with one presents a problem or a barrier. I think it creates opportunities.