The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why disabilities need to be included when teaching diversity

I recently went to a Diversity Conference that was hosted by my school district, where my children attend and I am on the Diversity Committee.  When planning this event, as usual, I kept pushing to make sure that Disabilities (especially learning disabilities) was on the agenda as well because we really need to embrace ALL diversity.  I have been wanting to report on this event and share with you the really great sessions I attended.  I will touch base briefly on the three sessions I attended (there was a lunch session but it was really us just chatting & eating).

Session 1: “This Exit, No Return”: Voices of parents whose children have severe disabilities and what they want the world to know.  Dr. Joy Cowdery  

This session we read from a play that depicted the voices of real parents who have children with severe disabilities.  As you can expect, I cried and I cried, oh yeah, I cried.  Good thing I have courage to be vulnerable.  Being able to put myself in the shoes of another comes easy for me.  I am also a parent of 3 kids with disabilities and a person with disabilities so I could really relate to the emotional rollercoaster the short play takes you on.  This was very powerful.  I also highly enjoyed the conversation after with other parents.  We, parents of children with disabilities, are the minority and it would have been great if parents of “typical” children (majority) attended this session- but they didn’t (unless they were an intervention teacher & that doesn’t count - it’s their job).  The minority of us need for the majority to understand what it is like to live in our shoes and see the world from our perspectives.  This is the same as a person of color wanting those in the majority race to understand what the world is like for them.  The more that is understood the less we will be judged and discriminated against.  I’m not sure if Dr. Cowdery is a parent of a child with a disability because either she didn’t disclose or I missed it somehow.  The play was the “voices” of real parents of children with disabilities and that left a lasting impression. 

Session 2: It’s Possible: How to begin Including LGBTQ themed books into the curriculum.  Dr. Dee Knoblauch

After coming off the emotional rollercoaster from the last session I was knew I would cry again in this session and of course, I did.  Dr. Knoblauch explained the importance of having books in the classrooms and libraries that have characters and/or subject matter about people who are LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Questioning.  She shared with us lists of appropriate books she has already read and researched. These books are appropriate for middle and high school.  I was thrilled to get these lists.  As a counselor I suggest books for clients to ear-read or eye-read as a form of biblotherapy.  When we read books with characters and situations similar to ourselves and what we are going through, we can relate and feel connected.  By reading we can live vicariously through the characters, learn lessons, and know we are NOT alone.  Being LGBTQ is being a minority in a world where the majority is not often open and accepting. I appreciated Dr. Knoblauch sharing her own personal experiences being a lesbian, living with her partner while raising daughters together because this information gave credibility to her choices of appropriate reading material.    I’m in the processing of checking for Dr. Knoblauch to see if these books are also available in audiobook format since I ear-read SOOO much better than I can eye-read.

Session 3: Teaching African American History: Movies, Music, and Multimedia.  Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries

I’m a movie fanatic and, like books, they can be used in counseling to help clients work through some of their own issues.  As you know I’m a passionate inclusionist and want everyone to learning to see the world through the perspective of others!  This is the best way we, as a society can become stronger and a great way to build empathy (remember – Empathy is the antidote to bullying,bias, & bigotry).  Dr. Jeffries was outstanding as he explained how he taught African American History to students using movies and critical discussions.  As he held up the movies and started to talk about them, I cried.  Not the boo hoo crying but the tears just flowed because I know these movies, I have made my own children watch these movies when it was my pick for “Family Movie Night” in the Lam house.  I raise my children the same way I was raised – teaching empathy, acceptance, and understanding along the way.  This session was validating to me because I am raising my children the way Dr. Jefferies is teaching his classes- having them watch movies and then critically discussing them. I was also thrilled to learn of a few movies that my children have not seen and I will make sure that I get these movies soon.   

Lessons learned - the lived experience of being disabled from the person with the disability:

I really enjoy learning new things and having the opportunity to attend these sessions.  I was glad to see that there were some sessions on dyslexia (Dyslexia simulations & Dyslexia 101).  I did not attend these sessions for a couple reasons.  First, as a person with dyslexia I know firsthand what it is really like to live with this disability.  Second, I teach others about dyslexia and conduct simulations, although I do much more work at explaining how the dyslexic brain processes language, how appropriate accommodations can alleviate frustration, and able to provide examples from my own life. 

I also feel that to really educate others about what it is like to be a specific race, culture, sexual orientation, or disability the presenter should be of that race, culture, sexual orientation, or have that disability.  I always find it interesting when I hear non-disabled people speaking about what it is like to be dyslexic, dysgraphic, or ADD (all my invisible disabilities) because they really have NO idea what it is like to grow up and live with these disabilities on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, many people feel they can teach about what it is like to have these disabilities because they have a child with one, took classes, or read some research/books.  That’s kind of like me teaching a class on what it is like to be Asian because my husband is Asian and my children are half Asian.  Now, I can teach a class on Chinese New Year because that is about the traditions we do in our home to celebrate. I can teach about what it is like having biracial children or being in an interracial marriage. Are you still not convinced that a person with a disability is the best one to teach about what it is like to live with that disability?  Do you still think that it is okay for a non-dyslexic person to teach a simulation on what it is like to be dyslexic?  Well, then, let me put it this way… who would be better to teach what it like to be African American – a white person or an African American person?  

Although I can empathize what it is like to be discriminated against being LGBTQ it would be inappropriate for me to be the spokesperson for the LGBTQ experience.  Can I still support them – you bet!   Being in the majority population of sexual orientation my support, empathy, and understanding would be a wonderful way to make the world a better place for the LGBTQ (or any race/culture/disability…).  I have many friends that are LGBTQ that I love and respect but it would be an incongruous of me to teach about the lived experience of being LGBTQ.   

I often explain that I would make a TERRIBLE drug and alcohol counselor because I’ve NEVER been there.  I could counselor them as the books and research tell me to – evidence based research of proven methods to overcome being an addict, but I would be a major failure.  I would be a failure because the whole time I would be thinking – WTF, just stop drinking, doing drugs, watching porn… I would be making judgments all along that I am better because I don’t have these addictions and this makes not only an ineffective counselor but also an unethical one.  I believe that the best addictions counselor is one who has been there.  A person who has spiraled to the depths of addictions and survived so they can take others along the same journey without judgment. 

The world would be a much better place is we really celebrated ALL types of diversity and those who are diverse can teach us.  I want to know what it is like to be a person of a specific race, culture, religion, sexual orientation…. the list goes on but I want to learn this information from someone who IS that race, culture, religion………    The more understanding we have the more empathy we will acquire and the less hate and discrimination will occur but we first have to realize that the best teachers are the ones who live though the experiences.  

Here are some great picture quotes that really express the importance of teaching about disabilities from people with the disabilities.  When was the last time you learned about the history of the disability rights movement?  Did you even know there was a disability rights movement?  

Why do we ignore disabilities when we talk about diversity?  Why is it okay to ignore that disabilities don't exist?   The rights of every person with a disability - visible or invisible are being violated frequently.  This would not be tolerated if we treated a person of a color or religion these ways.  Think about it! I am so blessed to be in a school district that holds a diversity conference so we can all become better people!