Introducing Students To Disability- Year 2

Last year I wrote about how I explained to my classes why their teacher who was previously using a stick, then crutches, was now using a wheelchair. Or for those new students, why the person in the wheelchair was in fact actually their teacher.

https://thehippygeek.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/the-easy-way-to-introduce-260-students-to-a-big-change/

I’m starting to look at how I should update that message to reflect where I am now & what I learnt from last year (yes I know it’s the start of August, but yes I’m also already planning for September).

The past year has taught me a few important things.

  • Discipline is harder from this vantage point – set boundaries and [insert deity here] help them if they cross it. 
  • Kids are often curious. Often a question about me is really about a family (or even them) that they’re worried about.
  • Kids adapt – after a few weeks, you’re just “Miss”

We use Google Classroom & as such I will post this to each class which allows them to read it in their own time & stops it eating into lesson time.

Dear students,

You’ve probably noticed that Mrs Geek has evolved wheels & you might have a few questions. Our lesson isn’t the time for this, but you can always ask me questions during break / lunch! Until then, here’s the biggies:

Why are you in a wheelchair?
I have a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & POTS. EDS makes my joints & organs more stretchy than they should be, so I get hurt quite a lot and those injuries don’t heal very well. POTS means that when I stand up, or get too hot, my heart beats too fast & makes me dizzy. I’m using the wheelchair to stop me from hurting my joints, or dizzy, & getting too tired to mark your homework! People use wheelchairs for lots of different reasons. I love teaching you & this will help me to stay teaching you for longer:)

Can you walk?
Yes, a little bit. Don’t be surprised if you still see me stretching out my legs in the chair, or stand up. You’d be achey too if you sat down all day! Lots of people who use wheelchairs can still stand, but it’s safer for them to use the chair.

Why do you sometimes have other bandages?
You might see me wearing various different neoprean supports. I can damage my joints very easily & these help. Lots of you have noticed my knee brace (yes, you may call them Robolegs. I do!). Sometimes you might hear my joints cracking or pop – don’t worry!

What do I do if I need your help?
In some rooms it’s hard for me to get to you, but you can come to me & I’ll take control of your screen. We’ll keep using Google Classroom & that should help us lots! If you are at all worried that you’re not getting enough of my attention,  please come and talk to me.

Is it OK to ask you questions about your disability?
I don’t mind you asking outside of lessons. I can’t promise I can answer them all, but being with someone disabled isn’t something to be scared of. Even adults aren’t always sure what is ok to ask. I promise not to be offended as long as you are polite.

How fast does your chair go?
The powerchair you see at school goes 4mph which is a quick walking speed. I’m much faster in my racing wheelchair. Keep an eye out for me at sports day!

Can I have a go in your chair?
No. I rather need it:)

Can I help in the classroom?
Sometimes I may ask you to carry books / chrome books for me & holding the door open is always appreciated. Please keep your bag & coat under the desk & your chair tucked in to allow me to get around the room. Other than that, our classroom is business as usual.

Advertisements

#YesICan or Can I?

Channel 4 has just released its advert for the 2016 Paralympic coverage with an emotive advert. 

https://youtu.be/IocLkk3aYlk

Following this, I read a blog post from the Crippled Scholar that made me react in a way I wasn’t expecting. She raised some very legitimate concerns about the advert & yet I felt instantly defensive. Why?  I’m the least sporty person on the planet… or am I? Perhaps it’s because I know one of the athletes in the advert, or because more recently sport has impacted on the way I view my own disability. So rather than try to tweet a response, I thought I’d lay out a stream of consciousness here.

One criticism is the use of the term superhumans. In the context of it being disabled people achieving everyday activities and met with applause, then yes, take your ableism and insert it into yourself in whichever orifice you choose. But when it comes to athletes, some of these people are just shy of X-men. At our local Race for Life 5k, Lizzie beat every single runner by finishing 1st place in 17 minutes by propelling herself in a racing wheelchair. It doesn’t take anything away from her to acknowledge her disability & say that she’s bloody awesome.

On the flip side, there is the potential for making a big fuss of disability sports to create that god awful motivation crap with the “the only disability is a bad attitude” slogan. (I’m still smiling at those stairs Stella). The author of that poster ought to read what the definition of disability is.

I think the major tell here is to look at how other adverts describe the able bodied athletes. 

In the P&G advert, they are portrayed as oddly traumatised & moulded by their mothers – this does show how hard they work, but rather suggests that Dads aren’t as important and that you need some sort of adversity in order to be a winner.

The BBC advert is just a bit weird with a sloth doing gymnastics & an anteater on the shot put. No suggestion of being superhuman, but there’s that whole rippling muscles theme.

https://youtu.be/CKcEySuuUuE

I think from all of these, the only message is that advertisers are playing to an agenda and won’t please everyone. Based on the adverts I’ve found, despite initial grumbling, I’ve found myself agreeing with the Scholar & the raised eyebrow at the Superhuman term is probably valid as it hasn’t been used equally for the able bodied athletes who also deserve the same recognition for being a little bit amazing.

The second concern is one I feel much more qualified to answer. The ‘yes I can’ song was initially a bit cringey & the scene with the school saying no you can’t even more so. But actually, there’s a message here on a number of levels:

To individuals- don’t feel that because you have a disability, it’s game over (especially when those who believe they know best tell you to give up). I spent my entire life avoiding physical anything because of chronic pain and continual injury. Earlier this year I tried going to a local gym & cried with frustration having been wheeled past the bins to meet an instructor that couldn’t comprehend not using a treadmill despite being in a wheelchair… It would’ve been easy (and perfectly acceptable) to give in, but our school is all about Grit & Zest & Growth Mindset & other ones… whatever – I’m a stubborn old bat who won’t give up (Also known as gritty). Later, when I announced that I was going to try wheelchair basketball, family & friends were horrified. It turned out that no, that wasn’t the sport for me – the risk (and reality) of dislocation was too much. But then I discovered wheelchair racing & everything changed. After 36 years, I found my sport. I still dislocate most sessions, but rarely a major joint, and I’m building strength & stamina in my upper body that has a knock on effect on my dysautonomia. Mentally, I’m in a much better place because I’m told twice a week that I’m a racer & doing great.

The reality is that I’m still dragging myself around and finishing so exhausted that I want to vomit & my arms are constantly sporting the bruises that come from pushing smaller rims  (racers badges of honour). I may look like a wheezy flintstones car, but in my head I feel like a superhero.

To parents / partners /friends: the loss of mobility doesn’t prohibit your loved one from trying something new. Please don’t hold them back in case people stare or laugh. Yes, the gym bunnies look at me like I’m an alien when I rock up in the (new) gym in my wheelchair & use the handcycle, but when I arrive to chair racing with my fellow wobblies, I have never known a more supportive atmosphere. Our coach is a volunteer and does it because he’s passionate. The guy deserves a medal (and beer) himself for keeping us in line. One of the upsides of camaraderie is improved mental health – the downside for our poor coach is that we giggle & hare about the track like naughty schoolkids.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the “Yes I Can” message from the advert sends a very clear message to local Athletics clubs that sport is sport able or disabled. Worthing Harriers is an athletics club, we just happen to be the wheelchair division. The club owns a set of chairs for us to use & as we get into the sport, then we can choose to buy our own chairs (and even then, the contacts through the club help with finding 2nd hand chairs or fundraising for custom built kit). The whole thing started with one child contacting the club and asking why he couldn’t train with them. 3 years on & we’re growing in numbers.

Many people working in sports fields need to hear the Yes I Can message. There is still a huge stereotype within society that disability means you just stop & if you don’t, then you must be faking it. So the more disability sports is shown on TV, the more normalised it becomes. If it’s normalised, then sports clubs will begin to assume that accessible clubs are just the norm and include them as standard… prices come down… they’re no longer superhumans because it’s normalised. Job done.

I made it sound so easy! 

So yes, I agree that the advert isn’t quite how I’d want to be portrayed, but it is playing on the vibe left after invictus to make able bodied people sit up and take notice that people with disabilities are actually out there doing more than spending their taxes (oh yes, I’ve heard that line). We’re working, we’re having families, we’re learning, we’re pushing ourselves to our mental & physical limits. Just. Like. You.

I’m not an #Ableist but…

It’s time I quite literally wheeled Stella out again. The world needs a replacement for the blunt but very funny woman she was. This is the woman who got drunk, fell out of her chair & broke her wrist. No regrets aside from spilling her wine.

Anyway, this evening Facebook and I clashed. Ok, not actually Facebook,  but someone posting on it. I usually just roll my eyes and move on, but sometimes I forget that this is the internet and try to explain to people why their words might be misconstrued as offensive, or why in fact they are being a dickhead. In fact, to save you reading further: TLDR; don’t be a dickhead.

However, for the more literary…

Just a quick reminder of standards for talking to, about, or around those with disabilities  (and like ninjas, you won’t always be aware of our presence):

– The “at least you’re not that person” style of motivation speech is not well received when done in front of that person. That speech is best described as a clusterfuck.

image

– we are wheelchair users. Not wheelchair bound. Not in public anyway… don’t Google it. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.

image

– on a similar note, I can call me a cripple as can my disabled friends. It’s our word.  Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger?

image

– if I call you out for being ableist and you are not disabled, you don’t get to tell me that all disabled people would agree with you. Because one just didn’t. That’s not activism, that’s maths. Let’s be honest, If I call you out on it, I’m probably going to be nicer about it than half of Twitter. I won’t even c bomb you the first time 😉

image

Now watch Stella. Go on. Off you go.