My plan is to blog at least once a week on something I've encountered in my MCH-LEND studies. I figure this will be good for a couple of things -- it will help me distill my thoughts, and will (ideally) let my readers in on some of the benefits of the program.
So this week's installment has to do with a brown-bag I attended and a video that JoyDad & I watched.
The brown-bag was a report on the Natural Supports Project, an initiative aimed at finding ways for young people -- middle & high school-age -- "to participate more fully and naturally in school, work, and community activities." While they commented that people who hear "natural supports" tend to think of wooden beams or cotton underwear (!), what the project means by natural supports is people. As in, the people who are around you already, who are naturally a part of your life (i.e. not hired to be there).
The project offered mini-grants throughout the state to schools who created groups where young people, both with disabilities and without, focused on sharing activities and making space for real relationships to blossom. There are some lovely video clips on the site showing some of the results. I think for me the most powerful moment of the brownbag was when one of the presenters was describing the focus groups that the project staff held afterwards, interviewing participants about what worked and what didn't. When participants were asked about what were the barriers to making these groups work well, NOT ONE of them said, "Well, it would have worked if Sally/Sammy weren't so darn limited." Nobody blamed the disabilities, or the kids who had them! Wow.
Well, I had met both of the presenters prior to the brownbag, and so I went up to talk to them afterwards, and ended up going home with an additional resource that they had plugged during the presentation -- a one-hour documentary on DVD called Including Samuel, by photojournalist Dan Habib. Habib has two sons, a typically-developing pre-teen and a elementary-schooler with cerebral palsy. His family's journey so far, and their commitment to include their son in all aspects of life as fully as possible, twines together in the film with the stories of four other families, plus teachers and principals and disability rights activists. Not everybody in the film has had good inclusion experiences in school-based settings -- "Inclusion is an easy thing to do poorly," one school administrator points out -- but the central message is that full inclusion is something that we, as a society, need to learn to do right.
I found myself writing down quote after quote from the video. Here are a few of them:
- "Constantly worrying about Samuel's future isn't the best way to be his parents." (Samuel's mom) -- I hadn't thought about it like that before, but she's right. So many worries, but when they get too dominant, that's no way to make a life.
- "I can't limit him. Everybody else in life is going to limit him. I can't do that." (Mother of another featured child in the video, a young lad with autism)
- "All kids -- with the right supports, the right teaching methods, the right technology, can learn the general education curriculum." (This one was either from a teacher or an administrator.) I'm still chewing on the implications of this. A beautiful and radical statement. I want it to be true.
- "If we want something smooth and easy, then we're in the wrong business." (A principal)
- "The baby boomers aging, they ain't gonna call it disability, they gonna call it 'old,' but they a$$es gonna need a ramp!" (Disability activist Keith Jones, on assistive technology)
- "Is there any place in society where inclusion already exists, full-blown? and the answer is yes. It exists within a lot of families." (A principal)
- "He will teach a lot of people. Which is good, because the world has a lot to learn." (Dan Habib, Samuel's father)
There's a local screening of the show coming up soon, with a chance to meet the filmmaker, but JoyDad's got a gig that night. I highly recommend it to my classmates, though! For those not around here, I bet you can get it on Netflix, or check the list of PBS broadcasts -- it might be on TV in your market this fall.
Update 9/11: So this afternoon I came home to a phone message from the school district on my answering machine -- plugging the local showing of Including Samuel & meet-the-filmmaker later this month! This was a blast phone message that went out to all the school families, something that I generally associate with very important happenings like registration in August. Wowza!
Update 9/12: From the comments: Barbara just alerted me to another post on Including Samuel. If you'd be willing to host a viewing party of the film for 10 or more attendees, bop on over by Ellen and her blog To the Max before September 20 and leave a comment about inclusion for a chance to win the DVD plus party-hosting materials! Or just go peruse the post & comments -- lots of perspectives and food for thought.