Inclusion: It’s Not Rocket Science, But it Does Take Effort

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Inclusion is a word that is not difficult to understand; simply put, it means making others a part of your group. Yet, somehow this is still a challenging concept when applied to the special needs and disabled communities. We most often hear about inclusion as it pertains to education, but opportunities for inclusion exist throughout our society and at home.

Our family’s policy has, and always will be, if we can’t adapt the activity or outing for Olivia, we don’t do it. We were never going to separate or exclude Olivia from her siblings. By teaching our children that we can adapt to change, they developed a deep value of acceptance for their sister’s abilities and needs. I mean this when I say, not once, did they ever complain about not going to the indoor trampoline park or eating at the restaurant that didn’t offer accessible options for their sister. If anything, they were outraged that these considerations weren’t made.

The same can be taught within our schools and communities. If we are to speak about inclusive education, I draw attention to the amazing job our school is doing to model inclusion on a daily basis. We have been in this school, going on, our third year. When we started at this school, Olivia was the only child in a wheelchair and the first with severe Cerebral Palsy. We were a bit apprehensive attending our first school meeting, but were quickly put to ease with the school team’s willingness to listen and embrace Olivia’s needs. What they didn’t know, they were eager to learn. This was so valuable to us! They were open to having me in attendance for her first week, where I taught them about her non-verbal queues and her ability to communicate using an Eye Gaze board. The openness to learn extended to the student body where I was invited to speak about Olivia, and others like her, living with Cerebral Palsy; and how everyone, despite their differences, has ability.

Olivia is fully integrated in her classroom. Her peers know how to communicate with her using eye gaze. Once, in second grade, her teacher actually taught an entire lesson using eye gaze communication, so that Olivia’s peers could understand her abilities better. Her peers have completed lessons on measurement, with an emphasis on designing a fully accessible structure using foam blocks and they often adapt games and activities, on their own, so that Olivia can take part. Some may read all of this and think, why all this for one child? This is not all for one child; every child involved benefits.

The child who develops a sense of compassion for the child who has difficulty controlling their emotions, that was because of one child.

The child who looks past the child wearing braces on their legs and includes them in a game of soccer, that was because of one child.

The child who stands up for injustice or intolerance, when they witness another child being bullied or hurt, that was because of one child.

The child who develops a friendship with the child that is non-verbal, that was because of one child.

The child that recognizes that their friend in a wheelchair can’t use their school playground because of accessible barriers, that is because of one child.

Our children learn from one another. They also learn from the relationships we, as adults, model for them.

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2016: A Great Year For Change

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Well winter is here and a new year has begun. A great time to evoke change! The change I want to see is in accessibility. 

Oh the joys of winter. Walking with a wheelchair over icy banks and navigating around inconsiderate vehicle owners; who block sidewalks (not even bothering to use their entire driveway), forcing us out onto the roads. Because ya know, it’s so easy maneuvering 70 lbs of steel and kid around the ass end of your bumper.

And those icy banks? Don’t even get me started. I mean, how hard would it be to, I don’t know let’s say, NOT dump that load of snow at the end of the walk way!!?? Why not put it on the grass side of the sidewalk or anywhere else!? I’m not a professional snow plow operator, but isn’t the idea to CLEAR areas, not to obstruct them? Call me crazy, but the service you are providing is called SNOW REMOVAL.

Oh and before any nay sayers start harping about why we don’t take the bus? Let me tell you something, we do. We do on stormy days and days that are not fit for walking. But on beautiful, crisp winter mornings, we like to walk. Because it’s everyone’s right. End of story.

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Accessibility is difficult to come by. Period.

You would think it to be only common sense to have the day to day luxuries like walking to school or being able use a public washroom, available to all abilities, but in reality it’s not!

Have you ever tried taking your five year old to a public washroom to change their bottom? Most of you probably have never had to do this. I have. This is our reality and do you know what we are faced with? We get to carefully attempt to change our child on a tiny Baby Change Station, located on the wall of an almost too small accessible washroom; not capable of housing a wheelchair plus Momma plus child. Ah and did I mention, my daughter IS NOT a baby! In a  few occasions the change station has not been within a washroom at all, but outside the stall, near sink areas. I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of showing my hoo-ha to the public; neither should my daughter!

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Does this look comfortable to you?

Our only other option is to change our daughter on the floor of our van. Where is the dignity in either of these choices?

Accessibility shouldn’t have to be a luxury given to few. It is a right for all! So why is it that society has not fully invested in equality for everyone? Why isn’t it something we all should be striving to achieve? Is it because it doesn’t directly affect you or someone close to you? Maybe you weren’t aware there is a great need?

This is what I want to achieve today and the days coming. I want you all to look around at the environment you live, work, shop, frequently visit, restaurants you eat at; and think of children like my daughter, in a wheelchair, still in diapers;  young adults with severe needs, individuals with walkers, canes, stability issues, elderly relatives. If they walked down your street, worked in your office, shopped at the same bookstore or clothing store, ate at your favorite restaurant; could they do so safely? Comfortably? Be respected and have their dignity preserved? If you said no to at least one of these, change is needed! Change must happen. Because it’s 2016 folks!

My Daughter Is Not Special Because She Has Special Needs; She’s Special Because Of Who She Is

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I think one of the challenging aspects of raising a child with special needs is coping with the reality that there are people in their life who will define them by their diagnosis, and not for the person they are inside.

Olivia has Cerebral Palsy and with that comes many physical challenges. As her mother, it’s tough to sometimes watch her struggle, and it breaks my heart watching her go through countless surgeries and procedures, but through it all, she perseveres. Olivia works extremely hard, each and every day, to accomplish things most of us take for granted and she does it with grace, patience…well, sometimes (may I remind you of the red hair), and determination.

But most will never know this side of her. Most will see her as a disabled child, wheelchair bound, who appears to observe the world around her, rather than a defining aspect of it. They will stare awkwardly at her unusual body movements and dismiss her beautiful smile. They will pity the child they see. Most do not realize that lying beneath that blanket of Cerebral Palsy is a child rich in wonder; a child with purpose and ability, a child in which words will never leave her mouth, yet she will speak deeply to our hearts and teach us to listen with our souls. This child, my child, has been through tremendous struggles, but has found strength through it all.

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who loves to have fun and play….

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an animal lover and green thumb at heart…

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a music enthusiast and craft extrordinaire….

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a diva…

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a child who has overcome so many odds and continues to astound us with her progress …

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Many will never understand the battles special needs families fights daily to achieve equality for their children. Our children are not broken. They are not without purpose. They are beautifully different and just as uniquely important. What makes them special is not what they have, it’s who they are. They are teachers of hope, love, determination, equality and perseverance. They are people who deserve to be treated as people and nothing less.

It’s Not So Black & White

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In the four and a half years that I’ve been Olivia’s Momma, I’ve had the privilege of viewing life from any entirely new perspective; in which I have experienced great joy, been taught as long as you have love, you have everything you need, and I’ve also been witness to the harsh reality of stigma surrounding special needs in the form of ignorant comments, long uncomfortable stares, and sorrow filled glances.

Olivia having Cerebral Palsy doesn’t define who she is, but unfortunately most see her as a child in a wheelchair with awkward movements, who sits quietly, observing the world around her.

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But life isn’t so black and white….even the life of a special needs child.

Olivia is a four year old who loves watching her favorite show The Wiggles, getting kisses from her puppy…

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Being silly with her Momma…

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And even big giggles when Momma blows raspberries on her cheek!

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She is inquisitive with the world around her..

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She loves spending time playing and having fun…

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She is creative…

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And loves to fish…

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So you can see, my daughter doesn’t need pity. She is full of love, happiness and joy, as every child should be. Never underestimate the ability, strength and perseverance of a person with special needs.

Becoming a parent to a child with special needs is like adding color to life that was in black and white.

Difference Of Ability

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The biggest challenge I have faced as a special needs parent is getting others to see Olivia beyond her different abilities. It happens in every situation, out in public, around friends and family and even at school.

Often times Olivia is referred to as a “baby” or is treated very cautiously because others believe she will hurt easily or they feel she can not understand them.

I always correct these perceptions and draw attention to Olivia’s abilities.  When others, especially kids her own age, see she knows how to give a fist pump; their initial impression of her changes immediately. She becomes the cool kid. They begin to relate to her as a regular kid; which she always was, but they struggled to see.

I guess what I’m saying is, I wish people would just give individuals, like Olivia, a chance. We as a society have to stop looking at disability as being limited and accept it as a difference of ability. People do things differently everyday. I for instance write with my righthand; my son writes with his left, famous artist and writer, Christy Brown created masterpieces using his left foot.  My point is this, it shouldn’t matter how you express your abilities, there is no rule book of life that states we all need to be cookie cutter images of one another,  copying tasks identically. We are all unique individuals capable of unique and extraordinary ability.  Disability is a word that in its creation, placed judgment on another person simply by implying disadvantages in a person’s ability. I am passionate about changing the face and stigma around what others perceive of “disabled” individuals.

“People are pretty much a like. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities”~Linda Ellerbee

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