Last week, I met a woman while I was eating dinner, and as we talked I found out that she taught special-needs children, specifically students with spina bifida. We exchanged business cards and have e-mailed a few times since Thursday. I love reading her e-mails, but when I read one of them, I had to stop and ask myself, “Did I just read what I think I did?”
I went back and re-read the e-mail, and it turns out I DID read what I thought I did. She told me, and I quote, “I’ve taught many stupids with spina bifida.” Let me tell you, when I realized she said she’s taught many “stupids” with spina bifida, I was angry but most of all I was heart broken and hurt. Now, I hope she meant to say “students,” and I’m sure she did, but that doesn’t make things better automatically.
I want to make one thing perfectly, crystal clear to anyone reading this who thinks people with a disability are stupid, slow or can’t function independently without someone watching over us every second. We are NOT stupid and can do ANYTHING we set our minds to.
Growing up, I always loved reading and learning everything I could. As I got older, I realized the work got harder and more challenging as I entered high school and college. Truth be told, I was scared to death when I graduated high school and began to realize that I was now entering the “real world” and would be forced to think things through on my own without someone always watching over me to correct my mistakes.
But I just relied on what got me through grade school, and that was my ability to THINK and use my brain to get out of any situation, no matter how difficult. I’m not too sure, but I think I graduated high school with at least a 3.0 grade point average while taking a few advanced placement courses including Economics and Literature. Not only that, I graduated with honors and was a member of the National Honors Society.
As I entered college, I noticed that the work got extremely hard, and I was having to dig really deep to find that extra gear, or “hunker down” as the Georgia Bulldogs have to do when they’re standing in the shadow of their own goal post in the last minutes of the season finale against the hated rivals from the North Avenue Trade School, Georgia Tech.
I don’t know how I did it, but with a lot of sweat, long hours and hitting the books really hard, I was able to keep my grades up and was one of the few people in my family to earn my degree.
Fast forward really fast to today. I’ve been working with the same company for a little more than three-and-a-half years, and all that hard work, studying and learning everything I can is really paying big dividends.
I have been asked to work on several major projects with the city of Marietta, including the Mayor’s state of the city speeches; gathering volunteers for the city’s informational booth at the farmers market and community expos; and creating publicity including news releases, calendar events and public service announcements for the city’s annual job fair, which have been broadcast by the local media including television and radio stations in Atlanta!!
This afternoon, I finished updating a big three-panel display in the first floor lobby of my office. The display is a summary of the redevelopment, public works, and parks and recreation improvements and upgrades the city is working on or has planned for the future, and includes photos and renderings, a master list of each project, a picture slideshow of the projects and a big map that shows people where the projects are located in the city.
I’ve updated the display at least three times in the past, when projects have been completed so we can show the progress being made in the city. Now, I have to be honest, I’ve had to ask for help hanging the pictures, map and list of projects, because the panels or “frames” they hang in are really heavy and are fastened to the display with screw-on knobs that are really, REALLY hard to get off sometimes. I had to get four people to help me today and am not ashamed to say it, but when it was finally done, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and was really proud of myself because I knew I worked hard, gave it everything I had and didn’t have to have my supervisor watching over me every second to make sure everything was done.
In closing, let me say again that people with disabilities can be some of the brightest, hardest working people you have ever met, and we may surprise you with what we are able to accomplish once given a project or assignment to complete. We are NOT dumb or stupid. We deserve to be able to display our abilities and talents. Most importantly, we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.