Tag Archives: Education

Disability Discrimination: A Problem We Need to Talk About

15 Nov

This week, I gave a presentation on disability discrimination in one of my college classes. I had been doing research for the past few months, and I enjoyed bringing this problem to light since it is very personally relevent. Therefore, I knew I had to share it with the blogging community as well

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines an individual with disabilities as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that does not allow them to perform one or more major life activities, and disability discrimination is the act of not viewing individuals with disabilities as fully functioning members of society whose voices deserve to be heard.

Disability discrimination occurs most commonly in the workplace, and it stretches across many different disciplines as well, such as psychology, law, and education. Within the field of psychology, discrimination is harmful for individuals with disabilities because it may lead to feelings of isolation, anger, depression, or anxiety. Within the field of law, disability discrimination is the least discussed type of discrimination law. Furthermore, within the field of education, the presence of disability discrimination perpetuates the feelings of exclusion found in school systems. Disability exclusion also increases fear aimed towards individuals who are different.

(from The Today Show)

The problem of disability discrimination is serious, and it influences individuals with and without disabilities. There is not just one group at fault. Each one of us is responsible for the persistence of this problem, and it is a problem that deserves to be discussed in order for individuals with and without disabilities to feel comfortable in the world in which they live.

But the question is: What can we do?

  1. At an individual level, we should strive to understand that instead of disabilities being something that causes these kinds of individuals to be seen as less deserving of being heard, the differences should be seen as a contributing factor to create a unique society with more perspectives available.
  2. At a university level, disability awareness events could be very beneficial. By providing awareness to disabilities, college students and faculty may be able to better understand the struggle of living with a disability, visible or invisible, which they may not have otherwise been exposed.
  3. We should use person-first language: “individual with disability” rather than “disabled individual.”

Disability discrimination is a serious global and ethical issue within our society today. Since I have a physical disability of Cerebral Palsy, I can attest to the importance of inclusion. My experiences of exclusion made me stronger, but the times I felt included helped shape me into who I am today.

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Autmn in the Mountains

The capacity of the human heart.

10 Sep

The capacity of the human heart never ceases to amaze me….or more precisely, the ability of human emotions to keep us afloat. This time yesterday, my heart was full of sadness for a pet that passed away. However, right now, in this exact moment, I am incredibly happy.

Nothing particularly amazing happened today that lead to this happiness, which is why it feels a bit strange right now. I went to class, spent some time with friends (which included having my first pumpkin spice latte of the fall season, despite it not feeling like fall), and did some errands and schoolwork. See, just an average, run-of-the-mill Monday. Even though I have had moments in my life where a really shitty day is followed by a really amazing day, it doesn’t happen often.

The more I think about how I’ve felt today, the more I am reminded of a particular Elizabeth Gilbert quote about happiness:

Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.

Even though I feel that this quote definitely rings true for today, I also know that part of my happiness is stemming from the little things: being grateful that I got so much schoolwork done yesterday, realizing how lucky I am to have so much love and support from my friends, and the fact that every single day, I get to do what I love. Yes, I’m still in college. My immediate concern is my education, which is how it should be (thankfully, I love school, so it’s a fun adventure rather than a daily drag). However, at the center of my world and the center focus of my heart is my writing. I get to write every single day, and I love that I have that ability. Yes, it is a very simple act. However, it makes me feel completely and utterly alive. Even though that may sound a bit cliché, it’s the truth, and it’s the only way I’m able to express the amazing role that writing plays in my life.

It is because of writing that I am able to share my story with the world. Though that may not seem like a big deal to you, it means everything to me. In short, I grew up with a disability. I grew up going to physical therapy, having intense surgeries, and asking myself on a daily basis why I had to be different from every other kid my age. Even though I have come no closer to answering that question since I have begun writing my memoir, I do know this much. I know that I feel happier after I share a memory or a struggle with all of you. Knowing that there are people out there who are reading my words and who are encouraging me to keep on sharing my story is one of the main reasons why I keep on trudging through my incredibly painful past. However, the other main reason is because it makes my heart happy. Even though that may seem like a funny thought, it’s true.

Therefore, even though yesterday was incredibly hard in an emotional sense, I am grateful to the capacity of my heart to realize who and what make this life worth living.

Teaching “social graces” for physical disabilities in schools.

29 Aug

In my community psychology class, we have been asked to do a project on a societal problem. I’ve chosen the stigma of physical disabilities and the social consequences that are connected with physical disabilities. Obviously this topic hits home for me since I have a physical disability, and I’m excited to start researching. Plus, I feel like this project could provide me with some great material to possibly include in my memoir.

I feel like the social consequences of having a disability, physical or not, is something that isn’t brought to too much awareness. Other than my intense surgeries and intense physical therapy, being able to socially adapt is probably one of the hardest things that I’ve faced due to being someone with a physical disability. I learned very early on in life that I was going to have to be the one to initiate relationships with classmates and people in my community. Everyone wants friends and people to count on, but as I was growing up as someone who was “different,” it was the one thing I wanted more than anything. However, in a society where being different isn’t the norm, it makes things that much harder for those of us who are a bit unique.

Today when I was talking to two of my other classmates who are also interested in the topic of the stigma of physical disabilities, I mentioned that grade school and middle school were very hard for me socially. I was picked on, stared at and didn’t feel like I had a place where I fit. Today my classmates and I were trying to think of reasons why that might be so, or why the stigma of physical disabilities may be so high. One thing I pointed out was that many kids don’t automatically grow up around someone with a physical disability. Therefore, to them, seeing a student at school who is physically disabled is something that’s “different” and “not normal.” However, what would happen if we chose to implement a kind of program in schools that taught kids the “social graces” of dealing with disabilities, while also pointing out that it’s important to “empower” the individual with the physical disability so that they feel like they matter within the classroom? Though it may seem easier said than done, I feel like today’s kids are lacking the simple awareness of the presence of physical disabilities. Since they may not be around them on a regular basis, they don’t know how to react, so of course they are going to feel uncomfortable. That’s understandable. However, as well so many other societal problems we face today, maybe education is the first step.

Though it may seem far reached, having a type of class on social acceptance is needed in today’s schools. Not all of today’s parents are going to properly teach their kids to be acceptable of all types of people, so maybe it’s something that should be brought up in the school system. As well as decreasing the level that kids with disabilities are being teased, I feel like it would help broaden other kid’s views of their society as well as help those with physical disabilities realize that they have a place where they can not only voice their own opinion, but actually be heard by their peers.

Yes, the fact that I was picked on as a kid made me stronger. However, I didn’t get stronger because I was picked on. I got stronger because I learned how to deal with being teased. However, that shouldn’t be something that kids with physical disabilities need to learn. There needs to be a certain level of respect that exists towards kids with disabilities in today’s school system. Providing today’s middle school kids with an education of “social graces” when it comes to kids with physical disabilities doesn’t necessarily mean that those kids would need to immediately befriend those with physical disabilities. However, I feel like emphasizing that kids with physical disabilities should be treated the same as those kids without physical disabilities would decrease the amount of bullying, physical and emotional, that is present in today’s schools.

I, of course, am fully supportive of decreasing the amount of bullying that is present in schools today. From my own experience, I know how much bullying hurts, especially when you are being bullied for something that you are not able to control. I feel like providing a class of social acceptance would help decrease this issue, thus allowing future kids with physical disabilities to feel comfortable among their classmates. Though I know that my school experience would hopefully have been somewhat different if a social acceptance class was provided at my school as I was growing up, I am willing to accept that I faced lots of teasing if it means that I can help future kids not have to experience it to such a high degree, or better yet, not at all.

Blazing my own trail.

18 Aug

As I sit at my desk gearing up for the start of my junior year of college (which begins on Monday), I am amazed at how I was able to keep up with my schoolwork when I was in and out of the hospital for my intense surgeries and intense physical therapy following those surgeries. Granted, I had tutors, and without them, I don’t think I would have been able to get all of my schoolwork done. However, it’s hard for me to imagine that I had so much time. I had time for schoolwork even when it wasn’t the highest priority (though it was definitely the second highest). The first concern, of course, was focusing on getting me as independent as possible through intense surgeries and PT.

I think I’m just very thankful that I was able to stay at the same pace as the rest of my classmates. I still am not quite sure how I did all of it. Maybe I didn’t need as much sleep in those days, or maybe I just didn’t have as much schoolwork as I am remembering. I definitely know that if I was faced with the same situation right now, I wouldn’t be graduating in a mere 2 years. However, that was middle school. Even though my academics were incredibly important, they weren’t as heavily weighted as they are in college obviously. Either way, I feel like I got lucky on that front. Thanks to some really great tutors, I was moving at the same pace as the rest of my classmates even when I was doing schoolwork from the hospital and from home.

All things considered, I am happy that I got the same education as the kids that I grew up with despite my disability. My parents could have chosen a different avenue, but they chose to put me in an environment with every other kid my age, and I’m so glad they did. Yes, I was teased and yes I faced some difficulties that other kids my age didn’t have to worry about. However, I also learned at a relatively young age that I had to blaze my own trail. Best of all, I’m glad that I was put in a regular school environment in the very beginning of my education so that I could get used to being around regular kids. Through this immersion, I learned quickly that I was different, but I also learned that in a school setting, I was treated like every other kid in my class. I was held to exactly the same standards as every other student, and I definitely know that I benefited from that.

It is because of my parents’ decision to place me in a regular school environment and my pure love of learning that has gotten me to where I am today in terms of my education. I am grateful that my CP does not limit my intelligence because school has provided me with yet another avenue that I am able to excel in without being limited. Yes, I may have had to work harder in middle school knowing that I had to get my schoolwork done while also going to physical therapy and having intense surgeries, but I did it. I did it because it was expected of me and because I loved to learn. I’m grateful that my parents instilled in me a love of learning, and I’m happy to say that despite having to focus on my CP as I was growing up, I was still able to blaze my own trail.

Two Years Ago…

27 May

Yesterday I went to Salem Academy (the boarding school that I graduated from in 2010) to see the Class of 2012 graduate. I had a few really good friends who were graduating, and graduation is always a great way to see fellow Salem Sisters who have also graduated. My best friend Skidmore, who graduated from Salem in 2009, came to the graduation too, and I loved seeing her.

As I was sitting in the audience watching the Class of 2012 graduate, it surprised me to think that 2 years had already gone by since I was sitting down in the May Dell in a white cap and gown getting ready to embark on a new phase in my life: college. I remember my graduation day so perfectly, as if it was yesterday. I was so excited, and yet I was also incredibly, incredibly sad. I wasn’t ready to leave the one place where I finally had felt like I belonged only to have to start over again. I didn’t want to leave behind the friends I had made or the faculty and staff who had shown me what it meant to truly follow my heart and chase my dreams. And yet, I was excited for what college would bring. I was anxious to be in a new place with all new people who would all be on their own path of self discovery. I was happy to be done with the grueling academics of Salem, but knew in my heart that without them, I wouldn’t have been as prepared for college as I felt at that moment.

As I sat in the May Dell in my cap and gown, looking up at the all girls’ boarding school that was founded before the United States achieved independence, I was proud. I was proud to be part of another group of women who, though leaving Salem, would continue to think back on Salem in the years to come, relishing in the wonderful memories that shaped our lives. On that day 2 years ago, I was happy. I didn’t think that I would cry until I looked up to see my mom crying. However, in that single moment, all the sadness of what I was leaving behind hit me. But as I shaded my eyes from the sun and listened to girls from my class speak about their fond memories of this place, I let the tears fall. I cried knowing that the young women who stood around me would always be in my heart, even though we were all about to head off to colleges at far ends of the country, and even far ends of the world. And at the end of that day, I left Salem knowing that I’d be back to visit and that I had made some of the best memories and friends that I could have ever imagined.

When the graduation of the Class of 2012 was over, I felt a strange sense of deja vu. It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t my graduation day, but the graduation of a class that I first got to know as freshmen during my first year at Salem, my junior year. Though it felt sad to see them leave the place that will always be home for me in my heart, I’m happy to know that one of my friends from the Class of 2012 will be heading to Asheville in the fall. It will be so exciting to have a fellow Salem Sister with me once again. Someone to explore Asheville with and talk about Salem with, and most of all, someone to create new memories with, even though both of us know that the memories that will forever bind us are those that were created in a place in North Carolina that I was able to call home for 2 years of my life. However, with my friend coming to UNCA in the fall, it’s as if something incredible has happened: Salem has become both my past and my present.

Thank All Of Your Writing Mentors.

14 Mar

After yesterday’s blog post Does Music Help Your Writing generated so much feedback, I thought I’d stick with the topic of writing for today’s post as well. However, I don’t want to focus on just writing, but mainly how certain people have impacted your writing…and the different ways that they have helped you broaden your writing experience. I’ll start with some of the writing mentors I’ve had over the years.

  1. My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Trish: Though I enjoyed writing before I took Mrs. Trish’s English class, the belief in my ability grew when I entered her classroom. Not only did she encourage me to keep on writing, she helped me realize that I could use writing as an outlet, as a way to escape when reality became too painful. She was also the first person (other than my parents) who told me that I had “a gift.” Hearing that from someone other than my parents was a huge turning point. I remember when I let Mrs. Trish read the first article that I ever got published (Writing To Survive). She cried, telling me how proud she was of me and how she knew that one day I’d truly impact the world with my writing. I didn’t remember some of the great advice she gave me until reflecting on what I gained from her in terms of my writing, but I know that she was the one who first really supported me (besides my parents) in my love of writing. To this day, we still keep up, but not as much as I’d like since college keeps me busy.
  2. A previous co-worker, Mike: In my junior year at Salem, I interned at the Columbia Star (and wrote the article “Writing To Survive,” mentioned above). One of my co-workers there, Mike, had a huge impact on me and my writing. I interned at The Star for three weeks, and while I was there, Mike was constantly picking at me. Not in a mean way, but in a way that solidified our mentor-mentee relationship. When my internship was over, Mike wrote me a letter (that is still one of the most honest portrayals of what it means to be a writer I’ve ever read) and gave me Stephen King’s book, On Writing (which has been extremely helpful through the process of writing my book). I met Mike back in 2009, and I’m happy to say that we keep up a regular email correspondence, which I’m grateful for. He is one of those writers who I know will give me completely honest feedback on my writing. He knows what I’ve been through, and so he also knows that I can take the criticism, especially since he also points out that the criticisms he gives me come from his heart since he wants to see me grow as a writer and a person.
  3. My AP English teacher, Dr. Cahill: Between my internship with The Star and the start of my freshman year at Wofford College, I took a hiatus from writing. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have people supporting my writing. Dr. Cahill is one of the teachers that I’ll never forget. She loves what she teaches, and she makes that known to her students. Though I didn’t do much personal writing during my senior year (since I had so many other responsibilities like college applications and being the editor-in-chief of my school paper), I still had support. For every literary analysis that I wrote in AP English, I went to see Dr. Cahill in order to get her feedback before turning in my final draft. Though she knew that I was an anxious student, she always made a point to try to lift me up. I remember one day when I was in her office she said: “Amelia, you’ve got to believe in yourself a little more. You’re a great writer. Can’t you see that?” It was in that moment that I realized how hard I was being on myself as a writer. To this day, I’m still hard on myself in terms of my writing, and I think it’s something that all artists face when trying to express themselves. However, having Dr. Cahill point it out to me was an important realization in terms of growing as a writer.
  4. My Freshman English teacher, Dr. Cox: Beginning in August of 2010 (my freshman year at Wofford College), Dr. Cox had a huge impact on me. She’s a writer herself, and one of the truest writing professors that I’ve known. I remember one specific assignment we were given during the fall semester of 2010. The assignment was to write a short story in which we held a specific belief and then over time our position/opinion changed regarding this particular belief. I put a personal spin on my story. I wrote about how as a kid I thought that I only had friends because I thought they pitied me. This opinion changed when, in seventh grade, I befriended my first true friend, Lauren. She showed me what it meant to be a true friend, and she helped me realize that I shouldn’t automatically jump to the assumption of pity when it comes to friends. Anyway, Dr. Cox helped me so much with this story. After a short conversation with her after class, I realized that she knew me better than I knew myself. I remember the end of that conversation because Dr. Cox said: “Amelia, writing isn’t true unless it costs you something,” and I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget that. In my case, this meant showing my vulnerability to Dr. Cox as well as my English class, and I was scared. However, I got positive reactions from my classmates, and on future writing assignments I noticed that my classmates were sharing stories that were more personal for them. One day, I came out of class smiling because after having numerous classmates share personal stories, Dr. Cox pulled me aside and said: “It’s because of you, Amelia. You broke down the wall of fear that people had built around their personal experiences and made it known that it was okay to share them.” That is something that will always stick with me because it’s a reminder that my words have the power to impact others around me.

I have no idea where I’d be without these 4 people. Well, yes, I do. My writing wouldn’t be as developed as it is at this point. I wouldn’t have grown so much over the last few years. Thankfully, I still correspond with all 4 of my writing mentors, and every day I am happy to have their support and love. As writers, we all need guidance, whether we care to admit it or not. As it turns out, the people who guide us may be some of the most influential people in our lives, because they’ve taught us not only what it means to express ourselves, but how to look within ourselves to find our true inner voice. I know from experience that it can take a while to find your inner voice, but once you’re able to find it, a strong and life-long connection to creativity, and ultimately, to ourselves and those around us, emerges.