I like to read success stories about people with disabilities. They make me hopeful for Sam’s future, and that makes me feel peaceful today. But there are success stories and then there are just feel-good stories…and I have mixed emotions about feel-good stories. I tend to like to look toward the positive, and in that respect feel-good stories appeal to me. But sometimes there’s an element of difference in them that bothers me, too.
You know the type of feel-good stories I mean: the ones where people are kind to someone with a disability, but the person is still somehow held apart. For example, the prom queen stories, where a student with Down syndrome is elected prom queen. On one hand, I love to see that the young woman’s fellow students care about her and like her enough to elect her. But on the other hand, there’s a side of it that bothers me a bit: the sort of unspoken, “Oh, good for these kids—they elected her in spite of her disability!” And what I really want to see is a story where the disability didn’t even matter, you know? Where the disability was no more of a factor that someone being blond or brunette.
I feel similarly when I read about kids with Down syndrome being accepted into certain higher-education programs. I’m happy that they have the opportunity…but when I read more about the opportunity, it’s clear that it’s a very different opportunity from what other people have, and that bothers me a little bit. I want Sam’s opportunities to be much closer to what everyone has. I’m not naive enough to think that every person with an intellectual disability can and will succeed in the rigors of a college education, but I would like to see more opportunity there—more chances for them to try.
It’s like what we’re seeing with Sam right now: He is in a general ed, mainstream preschool, and he is currently the only child there with a disability. And he is succeeding—with a bit of help. Yes, he needs a bit more assistance than his typically developing peers. Yes, he’s learning the material at his own pace, which is not quite as fast as that of the other kids. But he’s being given the opportunity to do exactly what they’re doing—with just a bit of assistance where needed. And he is succeeding.
Those are the kinds of opportunities I always want to see for him. Sure, he may need extra assistance in some areas, but that doesn’t mean I want him immediately relegated to some job that is different from what another person might be offered. He will have limits, which only he will truly know, but he will also have potential, and so I want to see opportunities for him. Limiting his potential is frustrating and pointless; as he becomes an adult, he will know his own limits, as we all know our own limits, and he will work with them. I don’t want to see other people impose limits on him where it’s not warranted.
And so I was delighted to read this post today. This program that Kelle Hampton visited? That’s a lot more like what I’d like to see than a lot of what I’ve read. This is the type of opportunity that I want to see more of—and I hope we do! Read the article and see for yourself what’s possible when we try to create opportunities. It’s pretty exciting. 🙂