Regular Lives for Families with Children with Disabilities
Interview with Kathie Snow
Produced by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
Prejudice in Society and the Benefits of Inclusion
Kathie Snow: I realized years ago that my son is going… There is prejudice and discrimination in society. We know that. I mean, in all kinds of areas and not just disability. And my son uses a power wheelchair. And we realized early on that whenever Benjamin goes out to get a job one day, that he's going to face different barriers than his sister is. Because people are going to see his wheelchair and they're going to automatically presume that he's incompetent and that he can't do the job.
And so federal law says that children with disabilities are entitled to a FAPE, Free and Appropriate Public Education. And we realize that my son doesn't need just an appropriate education, he needs a better education. Because our children, we expect them… our children with disabilities, we expect them to enter the workforce. They're going to be competing for a job against people who don't have disabilities.
And it's not any different than historical situation we, that if you're old enough to have lived through it, the Civil Rights era whenever we said you cannot discriminate on the basis of color, skin color, that people of color who applied for jobs that had once only been held by white people or that they're in competition with white people, that they had to be better. They couldn't just have the same degree or the same experience, they had to be better. Now, is that unfair? Yeah, but that's the reality. So it's like children with disabilities need a better education. And when they're in self-contained classrooms, when they're segregated, they're getting a substandard education. They're getting a very, you know, under-education, a very, very limited education.
The other thing that's important about inclusion is that, I mean, again, we we've created these mini institutions over our communities and public schools and group homes or residential facilities or sheltered workshops and those kind of places. And part of…part of what happens with inclusive education is that, when children are included in general ed classrooms with the appropriate accommodations, supports, and modifications, they get a good general education that they need to go on to college or postsecondary education or go into the workforce. So that's one benefit of it.
But the other benefit of inclusive education is that it has the potential to change the fabric of our society. So, if I use my son for an example, who was included, so let's go back to when he was in second grade. He's 27 years old today. Let's go back to when he was in second grade, he was seven years old and had all these little friends. So at the age that his peers are now, they're all 27, let's say.
Some of them, perhaps maybe one of them is working in a human resources department of a business here. If a person with a disability comes and applies for a job in his human resources department, because he grew up with classmates who had disabilities, he is not going to have the same bias and prejudice that other people who didn't grow up with them. So when somebody… Let's call him John Jones, whatever, John Smith, and he was one of my son's classmates and he's the head of the HR department in charge of hiring, and so somebody that uses a wheelchair is going to come in and apply for a job.
That guy, that human resource guy is not going to say, "Oh, we can't hire somebody like that." Of course, they wouldn't say that to the person directly. That would be cause for a lawsuit. But they, you know, the other position is filled or da-da-da-da-da. He's going to go, "Oh, you know, that's like my friend Benjamin, back in second grade." Or a person with Down Syndrome, or my friend Dylan who had Down Syndrome, or Chris who had autism, who would do some kind of funny behaviors, but Chris was one of my friends. So inclusion… When kids grow up together… The reason we have so much prejudice is that… I mean I didn't go to children… I didn't go to school with children with disabilities. I don't think they… I don't even think I knew they existed. Because they're invisible. You don't see them. They're off at a distance somewhere.
When my son was included in school, when he was in Cub Scouts, when he took drama lessons, when he was in karate class, when he was on the T-ball team, my son's physical presence in all those activities, just inclusive things, just ordinary things. Benjamin's physical presence can change more people than I can ever do in a million years because people realize, oh, okay, this kid, his speech is a little difficult sometimes and, yeah, he uses a wheelchair and he doesn't write with a pencil, you know, so he writes on his computer, we'll help him write something. Not a big deal.
And that's what we all have to do, as family members, as parents, as people with disabilities themselves, we have to get ourselves out there. We have got to take our rightful places in society. And the longer we stay hidden away, the longer… I mean, again, we don't have a lot of institutions like we used to, but we might as well have, because people are still invisible. They're still not part of their society. And in my son's case, we always made sure that Benjamin was included. I mean, again, he taught people on the T-ball team. He didn't teach them by teaching them. He just taught him by his presence, you know, it's not a big deal to have a kid with a disability.