Monday, January 16, 2012

She Has a Dream

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the middle of a conversation about school earlier this week, Rose told me about an activity that her class had done. In anticipation of the holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., they talked about King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and then they were assigned to come up with a dream of their own to share with the class.

Rose's dream was that her sister Joy would get a good education and go to

It shouldn't take a prophetic voice to articulate what I grew up with as a basic expectation in my own family. But sometimes it does.

We've been cautious about educational expectations for Joy, as you may well have picked up if you read my reflections on the ABLE Act. It's hard to see college when your first-grader still doesn't meet most of the standard criteria on the kindergarten-readiness lists.

And yet, it's all too easy to fall into the "soft bigotry of low expectations." (That phrase has entered into the conversation so completely, I was surprised when I looked it up to see where it had come from. I see it as rather an ironic source to use on this day of all days, but there's an important truth carried in the words.)

Here's how Kathie Snow, who writes at, put it in her essay "The 'Right' to a Normal Life" (emphasis is mine):
Is a child with a disability given an allowance? Expected to help around the house? Taught how to use the phone? ... Is the child expected to participate in and experience the traditional, ordinary, typical activities of her brothers, sisters, and similarly-aged children? Is she expected to achieve an academic education which will enable her to attend college, vocational school, and/or be employed in a real job? Do we expect the child to leave home one day, live on her own, get married, and live a REAL LIFE as an adult? When we don't encourage and provide typical experiences (and have high expectations), we're robbing the child of the "right" -- the opportunity -- to lead a normal life.
I had just read Snow's piece as preparation for a program I'll be participating in over the next six months, Wisconsin's Partners in Policymaking, a training for self-advocates and family members who want to learn to influence public policy around issues of developmental disability. In fact, I'd read it the very morning of the day that Rose told me of the dream she'd shared.

No coincidences!

I know I'll be paying a lot more attention to our expectations for Joy in the coming months. In a couple of long-overdue baby steps, we've begun serving her meals on the same ceramic plates as the rest of the family, instead of the plastic pocket-plates she's used up to now, and transitioned her to Rose's beloved "Cooshie Booster" instead of the buckle-in booster that's been the default (she's way past big enough not to have to buckle in at mealtimes!)

There will be other changes too -- small steps can go big places.

If we're going to live in a nation where Joy will be judged, not on the elements of her disability, but as a capable human being who will spend her lifetime learning and growing and achieving, we need to lead with high expectations ourselves.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

No coincidences, indeed!

How wonderful those baby steps seem to me! Maybe you can prompt Joy's teachers and therapists to give you one or two more you haven't thought of - ?