Over the past week, I had the chance to attend two conferences. The first one was Maryland's Inclusion Conference and had Paula Kluth as the featured speaker. The second one was Delaware's LIFE Conference. The featured speaker was Aaron Bishop, the executive director for the National Council on Disability. In addition, I attended three breakout sessions:
1) Unbreakable Drive: two guys who are both in wheelchairs shared their life stories to help motivate kids with disabilities and the people that work with them;
2) Delaware's Accessible Instructional Materials: provides textbooks and other curriculum materials in different formats for kids who have a print disability; and
3) the project I work for, the Delaware ACCESS Project, who provides training and support for teachers to help kids with severe disabilities gain access to the general education curriculum.
Before I started down the career path I am on, I did not think much about the world of disabilities. Unfortunately, I did not know many people with disabilities and my life was not very much affected by it. I am grateful for all that I have learned over the past 1.5 and regret that I did not know more before.
Special education looks different in every state, and to some extent, in every district. Sometimes kids with disabilities are included in the general education setting for most of the day, sometimes for only part of the day, sometimes just for lunch and specials, and sometimes not at all. The type and severity of the disability often plays a big role in this placement as well. The biggest thing that I believe after working in this community for the short time I have is that all students have the ability to learn and succeed.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that we are all sons and daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us, knows us, and wants us to succeed. This applies to me, to you, and to everyone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses while we are on Earth, some of which are more apparent than others. Some are physical, some are emotional, some have to do with relationships, etc. But we all have great potential and we can help or hinder one another in that effort to reach our greatest potential. Does it make a difference to you when someone believes in you and thinks you can achieve something versus when someone writes you off as a failure? It is those people who believe in us no matter what that help us most believe in ourselves, keep trying, and eventually help us succeed.
Unfortunately, this belief and assumption about everyone having great potential and ability is not always the case with people with disabilities. Historically, people with disabilities were often institutionalized and seen as inferior. Today, there is still sometimes a mindset in education that certain kids need to be separated from the others, but inclusion benefits kids with and without disabilities socially, emotionally, and academically.
Our society is too often focused on competition and winning, which can often leave people out and create a harsh learning and working environment. If we could focus instead on cooperation and learning from each other's differences, our learning and working environments would be a happier and safer place for everyone.
I am sure as I continue down this road, I will continue to learn and grow and develop these ideas even more, but for now, I wanted to share some of what I do every day and the passion that is developing for this field of work.