Diversity – Accessibility Awareness

November 22nd, 2011 by admin

Susan Scofield

October 10, 2010

Twice recently I’ve had friends ask, “Don’t you hate it when you are in a chair and folks speak louder to you like you’re deaf? “ Huh? My disabilities clash at times. I want to be where you can see me, but I will try to stay where you can hear me, too . . .

Pat told me I couldn’t use this time to fuss about not having an elevator . . .

I was asked to attend a cultural diversity seminar two weeks ago at MHS to find more ways to be culturally inclusive in the classroom, and to help quell the ethnocentric pull on today’s American middle school minds. I do NOT feel I honor other cultures as I could, due to my ignorance of other religions and traditions. I showed up at the conference to find the room ‘terraced’ with sections of the floor 10 inches lower than the section before it. All the tables had been set up in the lower quadrants, so I glanced around the room, looking for a ramp to join the other participants. I saw a lift at the other entrance, and I started to move toward it when someone apologized that the lift wasn’t working. So this was to be a cultural diversity seminar that was not accessible—one more faux pas in a list too disappointing to count.

Of course my colleagues helped me out—they recognize my worth. They grabbed breakfast lunch and coffee for me, they lifted my chair up a step so I could access the bathrooms, and they moved their table up so we could be a working unit. But somehow, the seminar had lost its luster for me. There must have not been ANY thought as to who they might draw to this conference. They had not thought of me, therefore, I did not truly feel that I was wanted or valued. Do my Hispanic, Asian, and African American kids think the same thing when they are in my classroom? She doesn’t think about me—she doesn’t know about me, so she doesn’t care about me? I can’t make connections with what I don’t know to connect. The seminar as well as daily life reminds me again and again to take the time to find that connection. I think diversity is much like humility—if you think you have attained your goal, then you’ve missed the boat. You can always employ more diversity. How many gay teens killed themselves last week?

It’s important to talk about being okay with being different. Kim Peek, the inspiration for Rain Man, said, “You don’t have to be handicapped to be different. Everyone is different!”

Supporting uniqueness and respecting individualism is important for people to see demonstrated, not just spoken about. We are NOT the same. We should celebrate each person for who they are and where they are, with no judgments. Yes, this requires educating teachers, kids, and the general public. Folks—young and old—learn by watching what we do.

Diversity embraces so much more than culture: socio-economic status, physical abilities, mental abilities, sexuality, gender, neighborhoods, family units, and living arrangements. I start talking about only one type of diversity—and then end up on another note—trying to get people to open their minds and hearts to other diverse groups—those with physical limitations, GLBT folks, those currently unemployed, struggling readers, people with other cultures, other religions, folks of different sizes, roller derby girls—we are all human—we all carry a bit of God within us—we are all on this old earth for reasons we may not fully understand.

Disability awareness? I’m not sold on this term. I don’t think we should be focusing on the disability. I think we are already too aware of others’ shortcomings. I’d like to think we are focusing on the individual—on the intrinsic value of each of us as human beings—despite how much or how little we have been given—or even what we’ve done with what we’ve been given. I’d settle for an awareness and a mindfulness that none of us are exactly the same, and yet we are all Sojourners in the same lifetime, with the potential to profoundly impact each other for better or for worse. Perceptions are much more handicapping than any disability.

Helen Keller is my hero. She wrote:

The calamity of the blind is immense, irreparable. But it does not take away our share of the things that count–service, friendship, humor, imagination, wisdom. It is the secret inner will that controls one’s fate. We are capable of willing to be good, of loving and being loved, of thinking to the end that we may be wiser. We possess these spirit-born forces equally with all God’s children.

I think she battled people’s mindsets her entire life, and I’m fairly certain things are not any different for me now. We are not battling ourselves, or our limitations, but the limiting beliefs of others—the boxes that others put the disabled into. I chafe against the ignorance and insensitivity of folks every day, and Helen handled all of this with much more grace and wisdom than I ever could. My friends are so important to me. They act as a buffer from the carelessness of the world. They remind me that I am valuable. I matter. I am capable of all the meaningful things that set us apart as human beings. I have the will to do good, to love, and yes, to even think I’m the wiser one in the end.