Signal boosting: The benefits of having disabled kids in your class

Disability rights are something even ess jay double-yoos frequently fail on, so I’m going to round up a few articles over the next few days to really signal boost some disability activism.

Today Sarah Kurchak discusses the benefits of having disabled children in your public education classes.

When I was in school, I liked integrated classrooms because they led to some of my best memories. Like becoming friends with M, a girl with good taste in toys, an offbeat sense of humor entirely in line with my own, and Down syndrome. We met in kindergarten and stayed close until she moved away a few years later. Or the morning ritual that I developed with my friend J when she started using a wheelchair more regularly in high school — we’d meet in front of the building’s brand new accessible elevator to ride up to first period science on the second floor together, often accompanied by our non-verbal classmate, N, and his full-time assistant. J’s part-time assistant also helped me build my woodworking project after I had a minor episode in grade nine shop class. I wonder if she took one look at the girl flinching at the sound of the buzz saws and perseverating about the potential for gruesome saw-related accidents and realized that helping me wasn’t exactly out of her purview as a special educator.

When I was finally diagnosed with autism at the age of 27, it was those memories that saved me. The fallout from that long-overdue diagnosis might have been a shambles of frustration, relief, confusion about what to do next, and a slew of backhanded support (more than one good friend responded to my news by saying “Well, I hope you’re not going to use that as an excuse to be an asshole.”). But the one thing I didn’t struggle with was calling myself “disabled.” It was easy for me to embrace that I had a disability — or anyway, easier than it might otherwise have been — because disabled people were already a normal part of my life. And there was certainly no shame or discomfort to be had in the realization that I was even more like my friends than I’d previously considered.

Kurchak brings up a good point. Ability is not always something we are born with–in some skills and circumstances, it is learned. Which means it can be forgotten, either because we stop using it, because we become injured, or because we always had a disability even if it wasn’t recognized.

Just knowing people with disability will increase the mindfulness regarding public policy. I see plenty of us filthy SJWs rightly twisted in knots over–well, damn near everything at this point–but not as much commentary on DeVos knowing fuck all about disability rights laws for American students. Maybe more activists would be less likely to forget if they were educated in integrated classrooms.