What worries me is not that Donald Trump mocked a reporter's disability. Bullies make fun of people. It's not okay, but it's life. What worries me is how many people tried to explain the incident away.
What also worries me is how many people responded to Anastasia Somoza's speech at the Democratic National Convention with words like "sad", "embarrassing", and "pathetic". Commenters assumed Somoza was being "exploited" for "pity votes" and that she was "drug out to discredit" the opposition, when in fact she is a brilliant advocate for individuals with disabilities.
I'm not talking politics here. I'm talking about a pervasive way of thinking. An assumption that disabilities are a safe target. A norm that assumes those with disabilities have nothing to offer. An common belief that "disability is a tragedy and disabled people are better off dead". Last week in Japan, a self-proclaimed supporter of "euthanasia" for individuals with multiple disabilities murdered 19 such people and critically wounded 26 others in one of the "deadliest targeted attacks on disabled people since the Nazis". But I didn't hear a thing about it until I came across this article about the lack of attention the incident received in the news and social media.
I visited a prospective school for Collin this spring and listened with interest as the administrator described how students from the self-contained "moderate and severe disabilities" (MSD) class were integrated with typically developing students for certain activities during the day. For example, students from a certain grade level came to the MSD class regularly to have music and sign language time. "Unless someone is having a bad day," the administrator said, dropping her voice. "If there is a meltdown happening or something, I really encourage the teachers not to let the [neurotypical] kids go in there because they don't need to see that."
This was a person who saw herself as an advocate for students with disabilities, in a school lauded for its special education program, talking to the parent of a student with multiple disabilities. I was surprised. More so, I was alarmed. The message seemed to be that those who are different should be hidden away because they are disturbing. It's bad enough for such an attitude to exist, but it's worse to teach it to the next generation.
And the fact is that kids DO "need to see that."
In Collin's pre-K classroom this year, there was Collin with his wheelchair and his feeding tube and his unfamiliar movements and lack of speech, and there was a boy with an autism diagnosis. Both Collin and his friend were fully integrated into classroom activities. It wasn't neat or easy all of the time and many of the other kids were unsure or uncomfortable at first. But together, the teacher and Collin's aide created a place of full acceptance. This allowed space not only for the differences of some students, but also for the discomfort of kids learning about those students. By the end of the year, those kids barely batted an eye when Collin or his friend had a "bad day" or needed something particular. They set a beautiful example for both kids and adults without even knowing they were doing anything special. What started as something foreign had become their normal.
I can't help but think that a world with more environments like that pre-K classroom would yield a population who would react very differently to a speech like Anastasia Somoza's.