What Does Ableism Look Like in Schools? It Looks Like This!

When a teacher daily allows a student with a learning disability to fail their class, but does not even lift a finger to inform the case manager or parent, that is ableism and its discrimination. Disabled children failing, falling behind and being excluded without accommodations have become the normality of the education system. It’s so common, it is woven into the fabrics of the system.

They just invisibly slip through the cracks, while a detailed IEP sits in a student database system collecting digital dust.

The fact that the Ministry of Education intentionally doesn’t even track information regarding the human rights violations that are occurring across the province is an example of ableism. Disability issues don’t affect them, so they have the privilege to ignore it. Want to know how to systemically keep a marginalized group of people oppressed? Keep them off your radar to begin with. OH…and by the way…the group the people the Ministry of Education are intentionally oppressing, are disabled CHILDREN and their family unit.

What is even more profound is that these teachers who are discriminating are caring people. They love teaching and are inspired by the creations of their students. We think ableist teachers are lurking somewhere in the dark with DON’T CARE tattooed on them, when in fact that simply isn’t the case. When children are ignored and neglected in the education system by good teachers, that is obvious discrimination at its finest. The “other” students get their gifts, and the disabled students get left alone, left behind, and just….left.  There are lovely people out there in the world completely unaware of their own biases and the normality of disabled children failing, just blends in with the wall paper.  It’s not even a big thing. It’s just something that happens. Shrug.

This is very common in the education system, and the ableism these kids experience is then internalized, becomes part of their self-concept, self-esteem and identity. Want to know why kids turn to drugs and crime? Failure in the education system has been proven to be foundational in many of the peer reviewed journal articles. IT’s not that we do not know. It’s not that more studies are need to be done. We have all the information. Government is just biased, ableist and discriminatory and this shows in their government run and funded education system. It oozes out of the pores of all 60 school districts. It’s not obvious to the people who are not impacted by it. You need to look at the system and not just focus on what is there, but what is missing. Who is missing?

We need to flip this education system upside down and inside out. The future of their lives and our society depends on it.

Ministry of Education- It is time for anti-ableism leadership from your government.

Are we on your radar? Or will we continually be swept under the rug?

Why a Diagnosis?

I worked as a school secretary and one day one of the teachers needed support from the principal for one of her students in the class. The principal was new and so she quickly went to the student files, plucked out the child’s file, flipped through it to make sure there wasn’t something she needed to know and then flew off to the class.  I realized in that moment that I should have something written confirmed by my child’s professional of their diagnosis, and not just have this info in emails and verbal conversation. If anything happened at the school, a staff member would check the file and they would be aware.  Wow, I have been SOOOOO thankful that I had that exposure and followed through in making sure that documents were in place for both of my children.

As you can see HERE on the BC Human Rights Clinic page they state:

In a case called Matheson,[4] Ms. Matheson filed a human rights complaint alleging that she was subjected to abusive behaviour from a supervisor. She had a history of anxiety and panic attacks as well as depression. On two occasions during her employment, Ms. Matheson informed her employer that she was suffering from “stress.” However, she did not provide any medical information that said she had a mental disability.”

The Tribunal dismissed Ms. Matheson’s complaint, stating that “an essential element of a complaint of discrimination in employment on the basis of mental disability is proof that the complainant either had a mental disability… or was perceived to be mentally disabled by the employer.” Click HERE for her case.

Matheson’s case was dismissed because she did not inform her employer (school district) of her disability.  If we do not have a written diagnosis in their student file with the school, as a parent if you file a human rights complaint, the respondents (school district’s legal representation) will cite the Matheson case and your human rights complaint will be dismissed.

We have got to get our kids formally officially diagnosed by proper professionals or your child has no legal human rights ground to stand on.

We need this diagnosis for the following reasons:

  1. Legal human rights processes
  2. Application for disability tax benefits (if applicable)
  3. Navigating the health system for proper medical care
  4. Advocacy in the education system for proper accommodations
  5. Social and emotional reasons – so parents are not blamed for having poor parenting skills and they are able to find other parents who have children with the same disabilities and get support.
  6. For the child – so they understand why they are having specific challenges and they don’t blame themselves for the wrong reasons. For acceptance and self-esteem reasons.

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Here is the wisdom, lived experience, and reflections from parents of children in the education system across BC. Thank you to all who were willing to share.

It’s a diagnosis not a label. I find once my kids knew why things were hard they stopped labelling themselves “stupid, lazy, dumb.”

  • Anonymous

I think a diagnosis helps us to know ourselves….better. it’s been a breath of fresh air to me personally and has helped me forgive myself a bit easier. It’s also helped me identify things that work and don’t work.

On a wider societal scale: .for ADHD, there’s so much stigma, misinformation, out there it’s hard to feel comfortable disclosing..

I ask myself why would I hide my identity/diagnosis? Why do I feel so scared of sharing?

Obvs cuz we are likely to be met with incredulity of “you aren’t that disabled” or they treat you as less than, and that is hard because-as XXXXX said they have power over us.

What they do with that information is the concern….the biases that come into play when they have that information in hand.

But I also know that being loud and proud and dispelling the myths of the neurodivergence I personally have, perhaps can help open the doors for folks around me.

However, I don’t speak from an intersectional voice (I mean not just “being female”). And as such I hope to be an ally to those who do and amplify their voices.

Because there’s even more work to be done there.

My hope is one day everyone can be loud and proud about themselves.

  • Chantelle Movay

And yet WHY should we have to make our private medical information public/known to people who have power over us in order to get support and accommodation? The idea that we have to out ourselves to be able to make a claim is problematic.

  • Anonymous

Our son was diagnosed in 2018 and since then we have seen a world of difference. Because of his formal diagnosis, we were able to get him the support he needed at daycare (1:1) and now in school. He lacked social skills and would only parallel play with his peers but because of his Supports & EAs he has flourished and now plays really well with his peers. The diagnosis has also given him access to speech therapy within the school, an IEP and other tools/resources to help him succeed.

  • Elena Lawson

Human Rights expects this in order for you to be entitled to accommodations. I know that is why it is critical and needed. As for my own child, in general professionals have never been able to give accurate recommendations. People can see “autism” and think they know what my son needs. But then surprise PDA, you actually don’t know shit.

  • Anonymous

I am relieved that you bright this to light. Accommodations and supports/ language/ professional and so on will never be enough. For our family it has been lifesaving – literally. We have found the most inspiring family’s that we could ever ask for. I am grateful for that. 😊

  • Anonymous

Having an early diagnosis for our older child led to assessments and diagnoses for all of us. That has led into participating in groups with others who started traveling the road before us and getting recommendations which, we wouldn’t have heard otherwise. I can’t imagine what family life would be like for us now without that first diagnosis and learning about other options to parenting from mainstream expectations. It’s hard enough as it is, but that would have been awful. In fact, I’m not sure our marriage would have survived. I’m not sure how my partner would have survived mental health crises. Having diagnoses has led to support options through their online school which would not have been available otherwise and which we wouldn’t have been able to provide out of our own limited finances.

  • Anonymous

We had our youngest diagnosed in grade one despite all the comments of “don’t give her a label” from relatives, friends and school admin. It was by far the best thing we ever did to put us on a path of understanding and acceptance. It has led to success in academics and my daughter has become a strong advocate for her needs. There are still some road blocks because of the severity of her Learning Disability but she is well equipped to find solutions to her issues.

  • Cathy McMillian

Without documentation of dx, we run the risk of trying to reinvent the wheel every year. Let’s channel the energy and hopefully the enthusiasm to what works. As well, if everyone could get accommodations by saying junior needs extra time or a scribe or oral exams …. We have to have a measurement or standard

  • Shannon Saunders

Socio-economic privilege provides access to diagnosis. Families in lower classes, disproportionately single parent households, are not provided with this same access. There are additional attitudinal barriers and medical bias that plays into even accessing the inequitable public system, along with personal barriers that are not supported (eg. difficulty navigating fragmented systems). BIPOC children are more likely to be written of as a behavior or family problem, without access to robust multidisciplinary assessment. Assessment and diagnosis are important for many many reasons. But using it as a gate to equity and support puts our most vulnerable families at risk.

  • Anonymous

A diagnosis made it easier for my child to qualify for accommodations in university. Without those accommodations he would struggle to succeed.

  • Anonymous

We missed out on so much due to lack of knowledge of dx and teen attempting suicide and spending 3 weeks in hospital as a result. I’m soooooo very mad at family doctor, psychiatrist, walk-in-clinics, counselors, school, and MCFD. Since dix, I have learned so much more

  • Anonymous

I value this as a way to deflect personal views..refer to medical i always said..but had teachers say we are the professionals..sigh..and another district learning support principal say we dont need reports to know what your child needs..had psychologists come to school to vocalize need..no go on supports..went online..but if we wanted to fight. Yes. Diagnosis would help. Thanks for your efforts..i feel our situation was uniquely bizarre..but sought to leave ir rather than put our girl as psychologist recommended.take her off the battleground..

-Anonymous

The arguing over why certain things were happening and why our child’s behaviour was being blamed on a personality flaw at school was putting our marriage under incredible strain. It was eating away at our son’s self esteem and identity. Once we got a diagnosis everything changed. Not only was he diagnosed but it led to my husband being diagnosed. We all understood and could learn and advocate. The blame and guilt game ended. Proper diagnosis is so essential for life.

  • Anonymous

long story short having documentation changes much of nothing when it comes to public school system. At the end of report from psychologist was around 10 recommendations, a big one was my kid needing 1:1 ea, bell to bell, never happened. Another was he should attend full days of K, never happened. That during school work he should have someone to scribe and or read for him, that happened when convenient for staff. Basically none of the recommendations were used. I had a OT spend an entire day at school, he had lots of good ideas and he too had recommendations, school didn’t follow any of them. His IEP, really was a piece of paper that brought in funding to the district. When my kid was in gr 5 he was at a gr 2 level academically, they tried telling me he was grade level. They say what you want to hear, when your gone, well sadly kids are not treated very well.

They destroyed his self esteem. Two mths in gr 5 I pulled him out of public school, he is about to graduate in a couple weeks and with his Dogwood diploma and he is a A/B student. All of his success no thanks to public school.

Anonymous

Case Decisions and Reports Connected to Education

NEW PAGE ADDED

I have added a new page under Education Advocacy and this it it!

These are some of the cases and reports that have crossed my path. This is not a list of the ONLY cases. To search for cases go to CANLII

For step by step instructions on HOW to search click HERE and scroll to the lower part of the page.

REPORTS

Advocacy Fatigue: Self-care, Protest, and Education Equity 2015 CanLIIDocs 212

Canadian Human Rights Commission, Left Out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools, Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2017 CanLIIDocs 3489

CASES – In BC and across Canada

Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61 (CanLII), [2012] 3 SCR 360

Hewko v. B.C., 2006 BCSC 1638 (CanLII)

School District No. 44 (North Vancouver) v. Jubran, 2005 BCCA 201 (CanLII)

Independent School Authority v Parent, 2022 BCSC 570 (CanLII)

Board of Education of School District No 43 (Re), 2013 BCIPC 20 (CanLII)

British Columbia (Education) (Re), 2018 BCIPC 2 (CanLII)

Sollitt v. Trillium Lakelands District School Board, 2013 HRTO 1128 (CanLII)

The Student v. The School District and others, 2019 BCHRT 217 (CanLII)

Steele v. School District No. 36, 2014 BCHRT 276 (CanLII)

Aslin v Edmonton Catholic Schools, 2021 AHRC 186 (CanLII),

https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/emsb-discriminated-against-child-with-learning-disability-rights-commission

MacKenzie v. Howe Sound School Dist. No. 48 (No. 2), 1997 CanLII 24743 (BC SC)

SJ v Parkland School Division No 70, 2019 ABQB 470 (CanLII)

Gould v. Regina (East) School Division No. 77, 1996 CanLII 6807 (SK QB)

Tsai and Tsai v. B.C. (Ministry of Education) and another, 2004 BCHRT 386 (CanLII)

Kelly v. UBC (No. 3), 2012 BCHRT 32 (CanLII)

L.B. v Toronto District School Board et al., 2017 ONSC 2301 (CanLII

HB v. Halton District School Board, 2018 HRTO 1729 (CanLII)

Rezaei v. University of Northern British Columbia and another (No. 2), 2011 BCHRT 118 (CanLII)Edit”Case Decisions and Reports Connected to Education”

Top 10 Shocking Education Advocacy Discoveries

  1. The Ministry of Education doesn’t track how much money districts are spending of tax payers’ money on lawyers’ fees to fight disabled children in human rights complaints. They don’t know how many human rights complaints are being processed by each district, how much settlements are…nothing. Not even on their radar. Click HERE .
  2. Ombudsperson doesn’t look at the decisions school districts make; they just look at the process. If decisions are made as a group, they are not accountable for the actual decision. SO, if they plan to rob the bank together, they are good to go.
  3. Ministries cannot testify against another government ministry in a human rights complaint. So, if your child was receiving counselling from the MFCD, they cannot testify that the damage was caused by the education system. If you could afford a paid counsellor at $120 per hour, they are allowed to testify.
  4. When you are missing documents from a Freedom of Information request, and the Office of Information and Privacy investigates, you need evidence that the document you are seeking exists. Witnessing someone write notes, isn’t enough. So, you need the documents to prove that you are missing the documents. Catch-22, that they fully acknowledge and are aware of.
  5. When filing a complaint with the Professional Conduct Unit, the certificate holder has the last word. You will never know what statements they make, even with an FOI request they will block you and site Section 22. When the OIPC investigate, the ministry will refuse again, and then your only option is to make a request to a judicator. The wait is 2 years, yet you have 60 days to file with the BC Supreme Court to contest it. The certificate holder can say anything they want and you will never get an opportunity to provide more evidence after their incorrect statements. If you experience retaliation, your only course of action is to file a complaint again, and go through the whole thing all over again.
  6. If you file with the Professional Conduct Unit against a certificate for lying/misleading the commissioner, the Ministry of Education will say it will be processed and the commissioner will say it’s not in their jurisdiction.
  7. The Ministry of Finance will block all Freedom of Information requests related to information connected to your child and the risk and litigation department.
  8. Even with case law from the Supreme Court of BC that requires legislative change, school boards and the Ministry of Education requires Ombudsperson complaints just to force communication regarding such legislation and policy.
  9. Our court system will most likely throw out any lawsuit against a school, as the court system doesn’t want to open the flood gates of parents suing. They know the system won’t be able to process and take on the number of cases. So, not only are you guaranteed to have your case tossed, but the district can then ask the courts to make you pay their legal fees.
  10.  Teachers, support staff and parents are all reporting that the education system is at it’s worse than it has ever been compared with 10, 15 years ago.  Resources are stretched so thinly. EA’s now have way too many students at one time. The finance department in the Ministry of Education says that schools have never been this healthy… AND they believe it.

Swimming up Stream in the Education System

When people in power use silence, lying and manipulation with the goal of making you go away, they do so based on experience. They do it because they have experienced success with those strategies and it works.

Every time we do not agree to follow the path they lay out for us and we decide to swim upstream, and it does certainly feel like we are swimming against a very powerful current, we are upholding all of the advocacy work done by parents who fought the fight before us. 

My grandfather’s sister was Deaf and his brother had a son with Down syndrome. My great aunt was an advocate in the Deaf community for over 30 years. My great uncle with his wife and other parents founded a school for disabled children who were being denied an education, and named it after their son.  Parents who were getting together for support in their basement ended up founding a school. Stories that have been passed down in my family make it clear that we have come a long way. We certainly can accomplish things we never expected when driven by our children, don’t we? We validate and honor their work when we decide to not accept the discrimination but instead we decide to swim upstream. 

The tactics schools use on parents, they use it because it works for them.  Quite simply, we need to make their strategies not work.  We may feel like we are fighting our own individual fights, but we are each a raindrop filling up the bucket. 

Building relationships in the path of advocacy cannot be overstated. It’s these micro daily interactions that be the most impactful. Sometimes the most gentle actions holds the most power.

I had concerns about the daycare my son was in and I wrote them a very detailed and thoughtful email outlining all of the concerns. It was straight forward. I didn’t sugar coat the reality, but it was also no way aggressive, and was still written with care. Still….the first face to face interaction, I was nervous by their reaction. The manager said I was the third parent to express concerns in the past 2 weeks and obviously something was going on here. She said, to have one parent complain is not unusual, but to have three parents about the same issue in 2 weeks, that is alarming to us. Those first two parents have NO IDEA that because of their complaint, mine was validated and the daycare took action and changed staff and their whole program focus. I have no idea who these parents are, but THANK YOU!!

We are the enforcers of policy and human rights. Those words written on those documents of paper are meaningless unless someone stands up to enforce those policies when they are not being followed. 

Before social media, before the mass sharing of knowledge, communication and support, there were individuals unaware of anyone else taking great risks to stand up for their children and what they knew wasn’t right.  

Any advocacy you do in the system is never wasted. And if you do think it was wasted, never stop talking about it so we can all learn too!

We need to swim upstream. 

We need to be a raindrop in the bucket whether its confirmed to us that we are making a difference or not. 

Even people who identify themselves as advocates get tired. We need breaks too. Even people who don’t identify themselves as an advocate can unexpectedly be a swift force of change. Never underestimate the quiet ones sitting in the back.

Silence, unethical practices and discrimination need to stop being success strategies for administration on how to deal with staff shortages, poor inclusion frameworks and chronic underfunding. 

Shame and Disability

For someone with a disability, it’s hard to put into words the level of shame that is connected to being disabled to someone who has no connection at all. In fact, I haven’t found the words yet.  Shame is too woven into my brain chemistry that I can’t objectify it yet with language.

When you are a kid and you are disabled, your whole goal in life is to blend in. Many people whose identities are connected to marginalized communities will talk about how as a kid, “they just wanted to be like everyone else.”

The intense effort in hiding that disabled children define their day by, confuses non-disabled well-meaning adults.  “Why don’t you just ask for help?” Beyond the obvious, that victim blaming disabled children for their lack of education supports is ridiculous, IT HAPPENS!

Even when children are offered supports in school, they are sometimes rejected, as kids don’t want to stick out. The desire for social acceptance is too strong. Survival is the priority, and that survival is the social atmosphere of school. It’s a tough environment.

Children are naturally impulsive, honest, and impatient. They ask us questions that make us chuckle, or turn red in public, or test our own patience level. We find cuteness and innocence in the childlike features. These features are also the very reason why disability needs to be talked about in schools and why adult guidance is essential. Left unchecked, and it can create a hostile environment for a disabled child. Sometimes to combat the bullying and oppression, education presentations are done in the class. By the time these are done, in grade six or seven, it’s almost too late. What ends up happening is the opposite occurs. The bullying increases. The bullies now have new language to use. Many families have experienced this, and the presentations were their last resort, and now school transfers are what is next on the agenda.

Kids who are forced to leave programs because of their disability and being systemically weeded out or being bullied by other kids, don’t forget it.  Overt or covert acts of ableism stick to us and don’t fall off. They get absorbed and compound.

Children who need help, are rarely going to ask for it.  The adults are going to need to pick up on the evidence laid out in front of them.  Teachers need disability training. They need disability literacy skills to navigate disabled students through the education system.  Without formal diversity and disability training, true inclusion is just a run-away train, and what is left in the dust…is shame.

Rally Speech

When my child was struggling in school, it was blamed on his behaviour.  Him not writing anything down was said that he was refusing to do his work, due to personality. He was punished by being sent out into the hall for 45 min to try again, or stand outside in the hall, or to be yelled at for not following the instructions.

When assessments are not provided and diagnosis are delayed, children suffer. It’s traumatizing for the child and family. Meltdowns after school were heartbreaking while we waited and waited for an assessment. Kids cannot wait.

My child slipped through the cracks in the system, and it was me, who had to pull him out.

My child said to me one day that he thought school was abuse. When I told this to the professional, we were working with, he said, “for a kid like my son, he’s not that far off.”

I had to leave my employment because my child wasn’t getting the support he needed, and dealing and supporting my son, while he dealt with “the abuse” took a huge toll on our family.

A diagnosis of ADHD and learning disability for written expression should not be a traumatizing process. The government doesn’t want to spend $2,000-$3,000 on an assessment, but lost me as an employee paying a lot more taxes than the cost of assessment. Even from a financial point of view, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s a pay now or pay heavily later. Kids cannot wait.

Without a diagnosis, you don’t understand the WHY – and that is really dangerous.  Once we got a diagnosis, everything made sense. We could learn and provide supports that actually work. It is because of these two assessments that I was able to advocate for him and he is getting the targeted support he needs to access his education.

When people don’t understand why children are behaving the way they are, they get unnecessarily blamed, and so do their parents. All relationships become strained. All these theories start to be formulated. It becomes a blame game.

As a person who stutters I can also personally speak to this, as stuttering gets blamed on every little ridiculous thing we do or do not do. We don’t breathe right; we don’t chew our food right. As a child I never understood why I was different and therefore I had to guess, and as kids we guess wrong. We always think there is something wrong with us, that it’s our fault, that we aren’t good enough, and we are to blame for causing the pain in the people we see around us. We never even think for a second it is because of our genetics, or has something to do with what is lacking in our environment, or connected to the adults in our lives. Never.  Kids take all of the frowning faces, the looks of dismay, the energy of frustration and disappointment and they soak all of that in without question. It becomes a part of them, a part of their identity and their self-concept.

Assessments for children in schools are crucial. Kids cannot wait. Having trained teachers who are able to identify learning disabilities in those early years and for kids to be assessed is a human right. School should not be places of abuse for kids with learning disabilities. When schools are not properly assessing children, they are disabling them. They are creating the barriers and enforcing those barriers. Our kids have done nothing wrong and yet our children take the failures of the system, as their own.

Disability is a social construct, created and maintained by people. Living with a disability isn’t NEARLY as challenging as dealing with the ableism.

The Ministry of Education with their chronic underfunding, sets up this system to fail. It’s sets up the teachers, the EA’s and the children to fail. Discrimination all over this province in the education system, is rampant and shameful. One may think, contact the Ministry of Education. They may not be aware of the situation. OH! They know. In fact, they are ignoring me, and they ignore many other parents voicing their concerns about systemic issues. So, Ministry of Education, if you don’t respond to our concerns, our emails, our phone calls, we will take to the streets and rally. Our children have a voice and they will be heard. The abuse of power, lack of transparency and zero accountability need to come to an end.

Ministry of Education and to the province of BC, we will never stop advocating for our children.

Love Ableism, xoxo

Implicit ablest norms are a part of our culture and society, and they sometimes blossom out of loving intentions and kindness.

When I was growing up, I received the messages daily that I was to be protected. That I wasn’t to take any risks in life. That the expectations were lowered for me. What people thought I could handle and achieve was VERY much reduced.

As an 18-year-old I was hired by a family for contract hours for their disabled daughter.  She had a developmental disability and was non-speaking. She communicated in some sign language and we were a great fit. I don’t remember exactly what her disability was, but I remember she physically moved very slowly and had some mobility issues with her hands. Her mother did almost everything for her. If she was thirsty her mother would go into the fridge, get the juice jug, get the cup out of the cupboard and give her the drink. She was 16 years old and loved cooking shows. I remember thinking to myself, people have no idea what I have inside of me, I bet she feels the same. One day instead of me making us lunch, I asked her if she wanted to do it. You should have seen her eyes and how her face lit up. She was shaking. She nodded eagerly. I said ok…I’ll be outside on the deck, let me know if you need any help. (To be honest, I had no idea what she was going to put together. I would have been impressed with a P & J sandwich. It was a risk and I admit that I was nervous.) I occasionally would call to her through the open kitchen window, if she was ok, and her face was BEAMING, and she would give me the thumbs up. When she was done, she came out, opened the door and led me into the kitchen. She was shaking. I walked into the kitchen and on the table, I saw she had set up place mats, folded napkins with a spoon, knife and fork, and we each had a glass of milk ready for us on the table. On the plate she had cooked and served Kraft Dinner.  She was intensely shaking.  She was so excited and smiling so big, it was like…I thought her soul was going to shoot of her body. She kept writing to me, “Tell Mom, tell Mom”. All day, all she said was pointing to her message, “Tell Mom”. When her mother got home, I told her what she accomplished and she was shocked. I could see her processing everything…operating a stove unattended, spooning out the KD, carrying plates with food on it, etc. Her mom tried to cover up her anger. I could tell what had happened thrilled her and scared her at the same time.

 Her mother, out of love to protect and help her daughter was doing everything for her, when clearly, she was capable of so much more.

 People with disabilities have a right to fail. We have a right to get hurt. We have a right to suffer the typical aspects of life, just like everyone else. It’s almost like there is a belief that life is hard enough for you, I need to remove the typical life experiences from you, as you won’t be able to handle it. Life can be pretty shitty sometimes and as a disabled person, I have the right to experience all the suffering that anyone else experiences and learn and grow from it, and benefit from it just like anyone else. Behind the over protection, the lowered expectations, the decreased risks in life are ablest beliefs about disabled people.

 These are the beliefs that really disable us. It’s the air we breathe and we don’t even know it and as children you can’t put your finger on it or have words to understand it. You just feel that you don’t belong. You aren’t strong like everyone else.  We get the messages that we are weak, we can’t handle life, we need to be shielded from it. We are babied, overly shut out of the world that is harsh and not meant for us. Some people are bold and risk takers, some not so much. But yet disabled people are assumed that we are ALL not risk takers. We ALL want to be shielded. Our individuality is stripped and we are all given the same identity. It’s out of love, it’s well intentioned and it’s harmful and hurtful. We end up growing up in a fun house full of wonky mirrors that reflect back to us an altered version of our own self-identity.

Out of love and care for disabled people, what do we do FOR them or to protect them? What is the underlying belief system behind that? Ableism is so socially constructed in our society it is the implicit norms that we don’t see. Some we can clearly see. The lack of brail on the elevator buttons, no ramp or accessible parking spaces. But the invisible belief system is the invisible string theory of ableism built out of love, that connects us all, and something that needs intentional reflection in order to dismantle.  When society wraps all disabled people in bubble wrap and uses their disability as an excuse to not include them in life, it is a form of ableism, carved from fear and love.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg talks about the sexism she experienced personally and those by other women breaking into the field, she talks about how men saw it was a way of keeping women out of the law profession as a way protecting women. She quoted Myra Bradwell who was denied admission to the bar in 1869, “According to our…English brothers it would be cruel to allow a woman to “embark upon the rough and troubled sea of actual legal practice. (Ginsburg, 2016, pg 71)

A book I read and loved was the book “Haben: The Deaf-Blind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law”. In her story telling she talks about how she was expected to do family chores just like every else. She talks about how she almost walked out in front of a moving train. She had the skills and ability to navigate around the streets after learning these skills from the school she was attending.

“There were so many signs….the vibrations through the ground…Blindness wasn’t the problem. Sighted people get distracted too. Many sighted people have been killed by trains. It’s about paying attention, not blindness. Does that make sense? …….Many people will blame my blindness, but those with disability literacy will recognize that carelessness created the danger.” (Girma, 2019, pg 118)

 Out of all of the people who close doors for disabled children, and shut them out, do we also want to be responsible for closing those doors…even if it’s out of love?

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. 2018. My Own Words. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Girma, Haben. 2019. Haben: the Deafblind woman who Conquered Harvard Law. New York, NY: Twelve.

The Scary Parent

To get us into the spooky spirit this week I present…

A true scary school tale in advocacy called The Scary Parent.

(I highly recommend you read this blog in the dark with a flashlight…or better yet, sneak into your kids fort and read it in there.)

I love spy movies.

Information is so valuable. People risk their lives for it.  The power people have because of information cannot be underestimated.  Information is knowledge and knowledge is POWER.

So, parents…what’s our power?

We know A LOT of information. (Insert evil laugh track)

We know A LOT.

There are Facebook groups out there where parents share stories, tips, resources and yes…education advocacy information.

This is terrifying news to school districts.

In these Facebook groups, policies are shared, laws and cases get posted, advocacy tips are offered and email examples are suggested. It’s pure group synergy.

There is only one rule about the Facebook group.

We don’t talk about the Facebook group.

Kidding…WE TALK ABOUT IT A LOT. (Rewind evil laugh track and press play again)

Now, here is the scary part. Not for the parents….the districts. We are invisible. They will never know if the parent walking into their office is a secret member, or not. If they have access to over 4,000 passionate parents. We travel incognito.  We are right in front of their eyes, and they don’t…even…know…it! (Feel free to make scary faces right now using your flashlight to heighten the scary blog affect.)

Here is the best part…

We are growing. Oh no!!! They say!

The scariest parent to the district, is an educated one. I am talking about being educated in how to navigate THE SYSTEM.

THE SYSTEM is a beast. It only responds to policy, law and complaints filed with external organizations.  

So, parents….

Go ahead.

Be that scary motherfucker you always wanted to be. Make THAT Facebook post. You go ahead and you fill out that intake form like nobodies’ business.

And then….

press…..

SEND.

Do you Trust me?

Trust has been a heavy topic on my mind for over two years now. My trust in the education system as a whole went diving out of the window on September 19th, 2019 and since then there has been a highway collision of trust breaking events. To be fair, there have also been some trust building events.

Let’s back up a bit.

I have had incidents occur that brought out the reality – teachers and principals are human. Even as parents we make mistakes with our children. We look back and wish we handled things differently. School staff make mistakes too. Harm was certainly not intended, but that is exactly what happened.  It sucks when they make a mistake and it double sucks when their mistake impacts and harms your child. However, in the past I was always met with integrity, honesty and genuine care.  How the education staff handled some pretty big “incidents” shall we call them, built my trust in the system. Shit happens, it’s not intended, and now we are going to fix it and make it right. They helped the healing process, for all.

How does your trust in the education system as a whole dictate your decisions regarding your child’s education? How you engage? Or not? How do you cope when you don’t trust the people in it?

I have to say, there are some amazing teachers my children have been connected to.  My children have had teachers who care, who go beyond their job descriptions, who connect, who inspire, and who in my mind…they were made for this profession. Everywhere you go, in education too, there is a patchwork of people full of passion, skill, knowledge, and unfortunately some who don’t know any better or just don’t give a fuck and have lost their way.

You don’t know who you are going to get, until you’ve gotten them.

Do you trust your child’s school?

How much?

100%?

50%?

0%?

Do you trust the school district and the administrative staff?

How much?

100%?

50%?

0%?

If you have a disabled child, trust in the education system is a sensitive topic. They system isn’t set up to build a trusting relationship. As parents of disabled children, we proceed with a high level of caution. Everyone else is diving into the ocean for a swim and we are sticking our baby toe in and waiting 6 hours to see what happens. It’s called experience.

It’s a balancing act. Sometimes you need to be so far up their ass, you know what they ate for lunch.

Other times, you can let yourself breath knowing that whatever happens, they have your child’s back.

Trusting “the system” or authority runs deep. Depending on our culture, history, sexual orientation, gender, disability, etc our trust levels are going to vary.

One of my take away learnings from a degree in human relations, is just how essential trust is to every human interaction. We filter our trust levels through every decision we make and every decision we choose not to make. Trust is the glue that connects us or disconnects us.

Some parents will comment that it concerns them how trusting their children are. “They will go with anyone…” Parents who have witnessed their children traumatized by a broken system, will feel crushed by how fast their kid grew up and how the innocence of childhood was stolen from them. “They are so cautious around other people now, and don’t trust anyone”.  

For all the days our children, pieces of our heart, leave our homes and enter schools…. we hope, we trust, that they will be ok. And when they are not and harm has occurred…it’s heartbreaking.

It takes a lot of time and effort to build trust, and it takes a moment to destroy it.

How do we risk trusting again? Children are no different. Do our children trust their school and the people in it? They need to heal. Will they risk trusting again? Or have they just learnt a valuable life lesson? Don’t trust anyone.

As staff administration enter district offices and school buildings in the morning…

As they drink their coffee and turn on their computers…

As they review their agenda and mentally prepare for their upcoming meetings for that day…

As teachers open their windows and gather their photocopies…

They are asking us…do you trust me?