I just want to start by thanking Michael Haris for his article. I have felt so alone in this for so many years. I, too, was born with a physical handicap that in no way affected my mental acuity. I was born with a rare genetic spinal chord dysfunction that causes my lower extremities to be weak and prone to atrophy. I have a difficult time balancing, so have used walking sticks for my entire life. I have also undergone several corrective surgeries, because of which I spent a large quantity of my school days in a wheelchair, dependent on others for ambulation.
Being a student in public school is hard enough for the “normal” student, but the additional stress of such a physical difference made it nearly impossible at times. I could deal with the juvenile taunts and prods, because my wonderful parents taught me that I was as great as I wanted to be and that no one could take my feelings of self worth away from me. What really hurt was the way I was treated by adults – those responsible people who are supposed to protect me from the darker side of adolescence.
These people assumed that because I didn’t walk well, I didn’t think well, either. I hated being shoved into the “special ed” room to be filed away and forgotten. I honestly believe that I was separated from the general population, not for my own good, but for the comfort of the “normal” students. I was actually told during a parent-teacher conference that having me in a normal classroom would be too disruptive. HOW? In what way? And who are you to judge me or others’ potential reactions to me? Last time I checked, you weren’t GOD! Whenever anybody took the time to get to know me, they found out that I was not only as smart as them, but also funny, witty, charismatic, playful, inventive, resourceful, and an all-around NORMAL kid.
Children who have special needs should have those needs met by the educational system, but choose carefully who you approve for such services. Ask the student where they would like to be. Give them enough credit to make the mature, correct decision that your political correctness won’t allow you to make. In many ways, the handicapped student is far better than the average. Not only do we have to deal with the standard stresses and difficulties of everyday education, we do it with our heads held high, trying to stay afloat in an ocean of obstacles. I challenge any “normal” person to spend a month, a week, or even a day in the shoes of the physically-handicapped. Then tell me who is special, who needs the extra attention, who needs the pity and the coddling. It sure as hell won’t be me.
There is nothing handicapped about me. A handicap is something one is given in order to rise above the rest. Do not pity me or condescend to me because I have a physical ailment. Everyone has shortcomings; mine just happen to be on the outside. Where do you keep yours?