The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #57244   Message #902479
Posted By: CapriUni
03-Mar-03 - 12:53 PM
Thread Name: songs about disabilities
Subject: RE: songs about disabilities
From Abbey Sale: I don't want disabled kids conned into thinking "they're just as good as anyone else."   

Okay, this has been rattling around in my head, and bothering me all the while. I grew up as a disabled kid in the '60's and '70's. If my mother hadn't been obnoxious and pushy in insisting to the experts that I had the potential, at least, to be just as good a human being as anyone else, and if she hadn't taught me to stick up for myself, I'm certain I'd be a mental vegetable in some assylum by now -- if I'd be alive at all.

Two cases in point (which may be fodder for a song, if I can figure out how to write it):

When I was born, in 1964, it was the assumption that cerebral palsy and retardation went together as the rule rather than the exception. So when I was 2, my parents were told to bring me in to the hospital for a cognitive evaluation.

My parents and I were sitting in the waiting room, having a conversation. They were facing the door; I had my back to it. Then the nurse came in, said hello to my parents, grabbed the back of my stroller, and without a single word to me, wheeled me away into another room, where I waited until the psychologist came in (most of this story comes from memories of my mother retelling it, but I still have a visceral memory in the pit of my stomach of being grabbed from behind and spun around).

Well, the psychologist starts talking to me, and asking me to do stuff, and I just stare at him, and not say a word (since I don't know him from a martian). So he concludes that I must be retarded, and calls my mother in to break the bad news... Meanwhile, she has been stewing over how I was treated by the nurse, and decides that, in order to keep her cool, she'll answer questions with only: "Yes," "No," or "I don't know."

She comes in, sits down next to me and smiles, and when the psychologist tries to demonstrate how I don't respond, I complete all the tasks without mistake (now that Mom was there, I felt okay), while she is answering every question with "Yes," "No," or "I don't know."

So the doctor takes the evaluation of "retarded" off my chart, but puts my mother down as "hostile and manipulative" (she was obviously manipulating me, since I would only "perform" with her in the room. :-P)

I shudder to think what would have happened to me if she had been the kind of woman who is cowed by authority figures, and had accepted the doctor's diagnosis...

Fast forward roughly ten years:

Decades before ADA and IDEA, my parents fought for me to be put in a mainstream classroom, so in fourth grade I was the only kid in a wheelchair in my class -- I sat against the wall near the door, because that was where I had enough room to manuever into my desk.

Well, one day, the class was particularly chatty, and wouldn't quiet down as the teacher was trying to give her lesson. So she got angry and said that she would write the lesson on the blackboard and we had to read the instructions. If we didn't do the lesson, we would get an F (or something along those lines)... Well, from where I was sitting, all I could see on the blackboard was glare, so I raised my hand and called the teacher over. I told her I couldn't read the lesson, and as I had been one of the few who had been trying to listen, could she please whisper the lesson in my ear -- I promised I wouldn't cheat and tell anyone else. She refused. She said the punishment was for the whole class, and I was part of the class, so it wouldn't be fair if she treated me differently.

Needless to say, I was pretty upset when I came home that afternoon, and told my mother what had happened, she said: "I have a PTA meeting tonight, and your teacher will be there. If you write a letter of protest, I'll deliver it for you." So my mom helped me write that letter. She helped me make it polite, firm, to the point, grammatically correct and neatly printed.

When I came down to breakfast the next morning, she told me that I had written a really good letter -- that it was so strong, it had the teacher scared -- that her hand shook while she was reading it, and she was so nervous that when she folded the letter up again and creased it, she ripped it through the middle.

Well, when I got to school the next day, as we were settling in waiting for attendance to be called, the teacher came over to my desk, knelt down beside my chair and "yelled" at me sotto voce, while shaking that letter in my face, saying that I was the student, she was the teacher and that I had no right to question her authority.

All that time, I was staring at a vertical tear in the middle of the letter, and remembering my mother saying I must've been in the right, because otherwise, the teacher wouldn't have been so scared. I couldn't help thinking that although the teacher may have had the authority, I was the one with real power.

My mother taught me:

Because of my CP, the hill I have to climb is a lot steeper than others' -- but that doesn't make them or me any better as people.

Others will see my disability before they see the rest of me... So if I put my hand to something, I'd better be damn sure I don't do a half-arsed or lazy job, and earn their respect through the excellence of my work.

And that if I want to be treated like a princess, I have to practice Noblesse Oblige, first.