Monday, March 26, 2012

1994 From Dependence to Independence (Part 3)

Part 3 of Mom's 1994 From Dependence to Independence paper. Here, she talks about mainstreaming disabled students and the benefits of that, using an example of a student in one of her religion classes. Part 1, Part 2

The photo is of Mom about 1993 with her new knitting machine.

There is much to say about mainstreaming and inclusion. No one really knows what a small child can learn from just being in a classroom with normal children, watching what normal children are doing. One student in particular has watched the progress of his religion class throughout this year with seemingly little recognition from the student. I happen to be the volunteer teacher of this class. He can't talk, so we don't know exactly what he is even hearing. In the last couple weeks, however, I have noticed a little bit of excitement. I begin to wonder what is locked in that brain of his. What is he thinking of us? He obviously can hear us, or he wouldn't get so excited when he sees us. This little boy in my religion class, has been a real inspiration to me.

I was talking about this with my sister-in-law Peggy and was reminded of a neighbor of ours years ago. They had this little girl who was birth injured or born retarded. I was never sure of which it was as it was never talked about. I only saw this girl once, although I knew she existed. At that point in time, no one talked about these things. From what I observed, she was unable to get around on her own. Her bed was put on the floor so she would not roll out, I'm sure. When I saw her briefly, she looked to be in her early teens, which made her a little older than myself. She never, of course, went to school. That would have been unheard of for that day and age. She eventually was institutionalized.

I got to thinking about the little boy in my classroom. This little boy has so many advantages because he was born more recently and not at that time. That little girl from years ago could have been in a classroom soaking up life by osmosis, if you will. It is truly amazing how the other children adapt to these children in the classroom. The other children actually fight over whose turn it is to help the student, whether it be helping with the books, or holding the door open. They become more tolerant of each other and are more helpful. They become used to seeing this little person in the wheelchair as no different from themselves. They talk to this individual and help him or her. What a wonderful world this would be if these kids would grow up and keep this feeling of tolerance in their adult life.

When these children are in the classroom, the teacher needs a teacher's aide. The teacher needs to acknowledge that the students are there and give them that special attention, but the teacher's aide has to do most of the work involved with the student, under the watchful eye of the special education teacher and therapist, who makes regular rounds of the rooms with her students.

While I credit the polio epidemic and drugs like thalidomide with helping the country think about educating our disabled young people, I also credit the Vietnam veterans for bringing the government backing and research to the programs of higher education and getting the legislation for us to use. Much of the "hardware" that the disabled use, has been perfected by and for the veterans, like bracing, streamlined wheelchairs, and hand controls used to drive the car. The VA has furnished many wheelchair accessible vans for the vets, complete with lifts and hand controls.

Mr. Phil Ross, readjustment counselor at the Vet Center in Cedar Rapids, agreed with me on the differences I described between the recently disabled and the individual like myself, who has come up through the system as a born disabled. The newly disabled have a before-and-after approach: before, I could walk and take care of myself and felt good about myself, now: after, I am confined to this misshapen body and feel helpless and useless. The disabled from birth have no flashback, no delusions. They have the preconceived attitude, put there by well-meaning adults, that they have a place in this world and it is not in a leadership role. Many times it isn't even in the follower's role. Most times, unfortunately, they weren't in the running at all.

Without the original chance to try our intelligence, so to speak, we lost ground before the battle began. Now, with the vets, we have some strong individuals in the forefront showing what they can do. These young men and women are the newly disabled. These are the ones who have already had their formal education, have come through the ranks of the educational system. I feel very strongly that I have seen both worlds. Having the good fortune of a strong family education ethic, I was able to get that good basic education. Unfortunately, though, great things were never expected of me. My mother felt that if I passed, or "got by," that was good enough.

Mr. Ross added that the Vietnam War left so many disabled young men and women, ironically, because of the capable medical personnel sent to the front lines and the quick evacuation methods; men and women lived when perhaps they shouldn't have and wouldn't have in earlier wars. With government backing and Congressional sympathies in their direction, money was no object when it came to inventiveness in the appliances created for these men. Much of the bracing and the new wheelchairs were invented through the military for the military. Some of these new wheelchairs can fold quickly and easily then stored in the back seat by the person in the chair. Years ago, when they were folded, they were too heavy and difficult to handle. They have also become narrower, and so easy to maneuver anywhere. The severely disabled have really advanced with the electronic chairs and chair lifts for vans. Much of this has also progressed through the military out of necessity, I'm sure, because the vets knew how to drive and knew about cars, so it wouldn't take long to get very inventive.

Part 4 of 1994 From Dependence to Independence

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