Here's how you qualify:
• You have a child with disability
• You are a person with disability
• You know a kid or an adult with disability
• You don't know anyone in particular with disability but you get it
• You respect people with disability, and do what you can to encourage that
• You include people with disability in activities or wherever, and do what you can to encourage that
• You care about breaking down barriers that prevent kids and adults with disabilities from fully participating in life
Not so hard, right? There's just one more qualification:
• You don't spread negative perceptions about kids with disabilities—or deride other parents' efforts to help their kids
Now, you would think that parents of kids with special needs would automatically be on Team Disability but, sadly, that's not the case. I was reminded of that over the weekend as I read through comments on Parents' Facebook page. I'd put up a post on the site about a petition started by a mom of a girl with Down syndrome to get Disney to create a character with DS because, the mom noted, "When I see her mesmerized by Disney princesses, it breaks my heart to know she has no role models like herself."
It seemed like a great wish. Ariel in the Little Mermaid wanted to be part of this world—exactly what kids with DS and other special needs deserve. Then I read the comments. And lo and behold, the one with the most likes (since erased by the woman who left it, who said she has a child with special needs) noted that she was against the idea because Disney characters are, after all, imaginary. As she wrote, "No, the world can't accommodate for everyone... Disney is unrealistic for a reason." (You can erase your comments, but Google doesn't.) When I pointed out that Disney creates characters who are racially diverse and that diversity should include people with disability, she responded with a virtual eyeball roll over being "politically correct."
Um, what?! Expecting inclusion for kids with special needs is being PC? There's no need for Disney movies, any whatsoever, to reflect the gorgeous array of people that exist in reality? Whoa.
Perhaps you think that Disney creating a character with disability wouldn't make any difference or you're concerned, as one mom noted, that it would be based on stereotypes. So be it. But when you air thoughts in a public forum that make children with special needs seem like a whole other species of human being, or push for non-inclusion, you set back progress the rest of us make for our kids.
Oh, yes: You do.
It's awful enough when people air their biases toward people with special needs or make clueless Facebook comments like, "Why do special needs kids need a special needs character to look up to?" It's doubly awful when biased comments come from parents who have a child with special needs. Not only are you not on Team Disability, you are playing opposition.
Divisions exist in the special needs community; divisions exist within diagnoses themselves. But it seems like there is one thing we should all be able to come together on: We need to do whatever we can to spread the word that kids and adults with disability deserve respect and recognition—and to be treated like any other people.
Our kids already face so much stigma. We have to try our best to purge it, in our real-life circles and in social media. Help people see the ability behind the disability. Help people understand that people with disabilities need parity, not pity. Tell it to the sweet lady at the dry cleaning counter who looks so sadly at your child. Tell it to your neighbors who keep their distance from your kid. Tell it to the person who won't accommodate your kid in an activity or program. Tell it to the world.
But if you are going to take a public stand against what the rest of us are advocating for—no, fighting for—well, then, parents like me are going to call you on your small-minded, backwards POV. And we are going to pity your children.
Team Disability: You in?