Yes, readers, it’s true. “It’s too hard” is a rampant excuse, especially in Disability World. Yet, the people with disabilities themselves are often chastised, looked down upon, and penalized for using it. Don’t believe me? Well then, let’s get out our magnifying glasses and take a close look at our next disability-related issue.
On the surface, “it’s too hard,” and its cousins, such as “this is inconvenient,” “it costs too much,” and my favorite, “it’s unrealistic”–look harmless. They might even look true. After all, Chick, you might say, how realistic is it for a kid who’s blind to want to drive? How realistic is it for a para- or quadriplegic to want to skydive? Okay, I admit, that might not be possible–YET. I believe these things are indeed possible, but we just haven’t developed the technology, common sense, and other factors needed to make them happen. And why is that, you ask? Choral response, people–because:
“IT’S TOO HARD!”
Okay, so let’s take this down a level. What about the kid who uses a wheelchair, but wants to play in Little League, tap dance, or do ballet? What about the kid with a learning disability who wants to try to get into an advanced reading or math class? The adult with a disability who wants a Real Job, who wants to have children biologically, or who wants to–deep, heavy gasp–go on a foreign missions or service trip? The answer to those desires has consistently been “no,” because of the aforementioned excuses. So, what say we take those excuses apart? Yeah, I knew you’d like that idea.
Let’s start with the kids’ desires, and then move up. Kathie Snow wrote quite eloquently about the modifications a skeptical coach was able to make when her son Benjamin, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, wanted to play T-ball. In the spirit of her example, let’s make up our own.
Tess wants to learn how to do Irish dance (a tribute to the fact that I have Irish heritage, and St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching). But, Tess has a physical disability (could be CP, could be something else, you fill in the blank). Let’s say that she wears leg braces part of the time, and uses a wheelchair at times when walking becomes difficult or painful. So naturally, the dance teacher in her town or city wonders if Tess should be allowed to learn Irish dance, or how that could even be possible. But instead of sticking with “it’s too hard,” the teacher begins to think outside the box. She allows Tess to modify dance steps on her own when needed, or may help to modify the steps if asked. As for the ones Tess is able to do on her own without modification, the teacher encourages those, and may decide to use routines that rely heavily on those steps, or the modified ones, or a combination of them. If Tess needs to sit out for awhile, she is encouraged and allowed to do so, but she gets to decide herself when she’s ready to participate again. The teacher may even figure out ways to incorporate wheelchairs into dance routines (yes, I believe it can be done). And most importantly, the teacher does everything possible to make Tess feel a real part of the dance class, not the “different kid” everyone has to slow down for.
Now, doesn’t that sound better than “it’s too hard?”
Next scenario. Daniel is a high school freshman with excellent history and English grades, and would like to participate in his school’s debate and speech club. But Daniel has a speech disorder that makes some of his words unintelligible. Daniel knows he could write down his thoughts during competition, or substitute different words for the ones he has trouble saying. If the debate coach says, “Yes, Daniel, but it’s inconvenient–the modifications would slow you and the team down, and I don’t want you to feel embarrassed,” then that coach has pulled a cop-out. Not only that, but the coach has also placed Daniel’s disability first, as in, “The most important thing is what you can’t do, not what you can do”–and gently insinuated that Daniel’s speech is an embarrassment. Yeah, I’d get mad, too.
But if the debate coach instead says, “Okay, talk to me. Let’s see how we can make your ideas work, or come up with new ones,” then Daniel wins–and so does the coach and the team, because a valuable player has not been sidelined due to a disability that shouldn’t have been a big deal in the first place.
Scenario number three. Colleen is a grown woman in her twenties. She wants to move into her own apartment, just as her friends from school have done. But Colleen also has mild to moderate Down’s Syndrome. Some people in her life have already said it would be unrealistic for her to live on her own because “you can’t do…” “You can’t remember…” or “You don’t know how…” Never mind that Colleen has been fortunate enough to learn plenty of “life skills” in a natural environment (instead of a segregated classroom). Never mind that she’s been allowed to attend general education classes, make friends, and participate in after-school activities. Suddenly, her dream is unrealistic.
Unless someone says, “Okay, what does Colleen have trouble with, and how can or should we modify it?” For example, perhaps Colleen has trouble with grocery shopping because she gets overwhelmed by crowds and the amount of items on her grocery list. Perhaps she could have her groceries delivered–like many people without disabilities do every day. Or perhaps she can write a shopping list that puts different foods under separate headings–e.g., keeping all the dairy under one heading, fruit under another, grains under the next–thereby making it easier to follow the list. (And whether or not you have a disability, show of hands–anybody out there done that before?) Perhaps Colleen doesn’t like to go out to certain places, like restaurants or the movies, because people stare at her. Perhaps, then, she could go to assertiveness training classes, so that she sees it’s okay to say, “Please do not stare at me” or even more forceful things. Notice, however–these are natural responses to real-world problems. They are NOT “goals” written out without Colleen’s input, and she is NOT being told she can only move into her own place IF she meets those goals. On the contrary, she moves into her own place as soon as possible, and the modifications are put in place naturally.
Last scenario. Mark is in his thirties. He has physical disabilities–he uses a wheelchair, has trouble speaking, and has trouble using his hands. Because of this, he was placed in a segregated classroom during school, and was later “allowed” to work in a sheltered workshop, because this was seen as his only “realistic” option (I’m beginning to hate that word, aren’t you?) He’s tired of the sheltered workshop and compensatory pay, and wants to get a Real Job. He has the skills needed for the job he wants, but his disabilities mean his workplace needs to make modifications, such as ramps or an automatic door, or letting him use assistive voice technology. Should the company say, “Sorry, Mark. We’d love to hire you, but the modifications will cost too much?”
Of course not–but how many companies would do exactly that?
In reality, the ramp or automatic door probably wouldn’t cost nearly as much as the company’s administration fears. And once again, let me remind all of you: If those things were put in place as a “convenience,” not as “special” things for Mark, everyone would probably love the idea. As far as the assistive voice technology–how many computers are coming equipped with that right away these days? How many people without disabilities use speech-to-text programs, such as Dragon, because it’s an “inconvenience” to type?
It’s becoming increasingly clear, I hope, that even when faced with the most “severe” disabilities, “it’s too hard” is a flimsy, if not outright untrue, excuse. But here’s the other side of that coin–the one we should all be even more aware of.
People without disabilities toss around these excuses like so many footballs all the time. But what happens when a person with a disability says the same thing? For example: seven-year-old Josh has a learning disability. He’s been working hard to improve his reading and writing skills, but occasionally becomes frustrated and tells his parents or teachers he doesn’t want to do these things. “It’s hard,” he says.
And what do the adults do? Best-case scenario, they encourage him not to give up, and to take a break for awhile. But worst-case scenario–and I’ve seen this happen, as you can read more about in my post on scare tactics–the adults scold,
“Josh, stop whining and do your work” or,
“Do you want to be in special ed/fail this assignment?”
They may not even consider what modifications may be needed to make Josh’s work more bearable, because to them, that would be letting Josh “take the easy way out.” (Well, as many disability advocates have said, isn’t using the dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand taking the easy way out?)
Next scenario. Kathleen is a very good student. But she has eye problems, including a lack of depth perception, that makes the required math in her high school, such as algebra and geometry, quite difficult. She might shut down, refusing to do math homework or purposely getting answers wrong because she knows she’ll fail anyway. She may spend twice as much time as her classmates do on homework, taking hours to complete just a few problems. And she’s told to work harder. To stop being difficult and noncompliant. Scolded because she’s not meeting her “math goals.” Hello–what’s wrong with reducing her problem load? Thinking up new modifications if the old ones aren’t working well? Focusing on what Kathleen can do well, to raise her self-esteem? (For example, allowing her to do something she enjoys if she tests out of a unit in another class, rather than making her use the free time to work on math?)
It may seem simple. But readers, so many teachers, administrators, therapists, and others don’t use these solutions. Instead, they place all the responsibility, all the blame, on the person with a disability. Psychologically speaking, there’s a term for that: blaming the victim. And the attitudes of others, not the disability itself, is what makes that person the victim. Meanwhile, the rest of us take the easy way out all the time, because we feel entitled to it. We don’t have disabilities, we tell ourselves. Therefore, we don’t need to work hard like “they” do. We shouldn’t have to, because we weren’t stupid enough to have “natural deficiencies” in our brains and bodies.
Let’s rethink our attitudes, people. It’s not that hard.