Wednesday, June 22, 2016
This is what it means to be open-minded about disability
Max has been asking about tap dance lessons ever since he went to the showcase for Sabrina's dance school. He loves to dance and likes to rhythmically stomp his legs as he watches TV, so I thought this could be great for him. He wanted to take the lessons at Sabrina's school, because he'd like to star in the show next year.
Of course I was going to ask. I thought starting off with a private lesson would be best—just Max and a teacher one on one, and me willing to pay for that attention. Still, I was apprehensive about the response I'd receive. Openness to accommodating Max in programs for typically-developing children has not been my experience.
I am not one to be easily beaten down; I'm of the Mack Truck Mom variety. But my heart hurts for Max when places aren't open to including him, like that kid program at a hotel a couple of years ago and various camps and programs I've approached over the years. I have heard and read many similar stories from other parents facing the same. My friend Hallie has a sweet daughter with Down syndrome who couldn't return to a camp she'd attended last summer because staffers felt it was too much work to assist her int the bathroom or deal with the fact that sometimes she had issues walking around in the heat.
Besides being heartbreaking, it's downright infuriating when programs don't welcome our children. Why do people who regularly work with children and youth think it's OK to slam the door closed on those with special needs? Including kids in events and programs isn't as costly or hard as people might think (here's a helpful post about that from the CEO of the nonprofitKids Included Together).
To be sure, the Americans with Disabilities Act demands "reasonable accommodations" for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. Problem is, "reasonable" is a gray term and the law also lets people off the hook if the accommodation poses an "undue hardship," such as a financial one.
Mostly, it takes an open mind. As the parent of a child with special needs, you are always hoping for those open minds.
So I emailed the owner of the dance school. I told her how much Max had enjoyed the performance, that he had cerebral palsy and that he was gung-ho to tap dance. I asked if there would be someone on her team who would be willing to try a tap and/or dance lesson. I said I would do anything to enable Max, and would be happy to discuss possibilities.
The owner responded yes, seemingly without hesitation. "Generally, our privates are an hour—but we can tailor to make it to whatever works," she noted. "He may want to come in to try tap shoes on at some point.... Honestly, I think this is a wonderful idea and I am happy and open to help in any way possible."
And it was that simple. She didn't ask a single question about his CP or his abilities. Her approach: We'll figure it out. How much richer our children's lives would be if only more people had that attitude.
We'll be trying a lesson after our vacation next week. Who knows where this will go. No matter what, I am excited and elated that a door was held open for Max...even as a part of me wishes this weren't so rare.