Integration, inclusion, mainstreaming â€“ or whatever the current buzzword is â€“ tends to focus on the individual with the disability. But, what about those in the class, group or workplace into which the individual is being integrated, included or mainstreamed? How does this process affect them?
When I began this â€œFrom Special Ed Classroom to University Graduateâ€ miniseries, I invited friends and fellow classmates to share their perspective of this journey; after all, I didnâ€™t make this journey alone â€“ many others took part along the way.
Earlier this year, I had the joy of reuniting with a Brownie friend Christine from many moons ago. Recently, Christine shared her heartfelt thoughts and experience of having me included in her Guiding years:
When I was 10 years old, my family moved from one city to another. The cities are only 15 miles apart but, when you’re 10… it may as well be 100 miles. The very first thing my mom did, after getting me into school, was sign me up for Brownies. I hadn’t been in Brownies in my previous city… so it was all new to me.
Every Tuesday night, I would put on my pretty uniform, my sash, my little pocket-purse with my coins (dues) in it and my beautiful little ‘tam’ for my head. I loved the ceremony of it all… the rules of order, the songs, the camping, the badges and the games. If memory serves me, my brownie pack was quite large and we were grouped in sixes with ’sixers’ as leaders… and so on.
My brownie pack included a young girl, Glenda, who attended brownies with her mom… she attended with her mom because she was in a wheelchair. We hiked, did crafts, sang songs, went camping, played group games… and Glenda participated in all of them. I remember feeling curious about Glenda… how she did all the things I took for granted… did she go to school? Did she have girlfriends? Did she have hobbies? As we got older, we "flew up" to Girl Guides. Our camping trips and excursions became more difficult … Glenda was there. Badges took more work to earn… Glenda earned them and still, I was curious.
As I became a teenager (now in Pathfinders – the next step after Girl Guides), as with many teenagers, my self-absorption and interest in sports, boys and friends pulled me away from Guiding. At the time I was happy to not put on my blue skirt and pressed white blouse in favour of my tight blue jeans or my sports uniform and didn’t think too much about my ‘guiding days’.
As I got older… I began to realize that I’d learned a lot of things in girl guiding – things that I recall even today, as a middle aged woman. I do, however, have regrets. You see, as an adult, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Glenda… something that I haven’t quite identified yet, called me to seek her out – only to find that she had become this incredible woman. A published author, a wife, a communicator, a blogger, a public speaker. The experience of finding this girl, whom I’d known as a child, shone a bright light on a missed opportunity in my younger years.
I wonder why, all those years ago, I didn’t ask about the things I was curious about? I wonder why my wonderful guiding leaders (who I still view as having been very important people in my life) didn’t take the opportunity to teach all of us about Glenda, about ourselves as Glenda’s fellow group-members, about people who were differently-abled than most of us. I believe that I thought Glenda was mentally challenged… this is a point of great embarrassment to me now. I don’t know if I was given the opportunity at the time to learn more… and either didn’t take it or didn’t recognize it, but I believe I missed out on an opportunity to connect more closely with a spectacularly strong and able woman who, without a doubt, would have been a mentor for me as I grew up. I hate to say that having met Glenda as an adult made me feel like I missed out on something as a youth… but that’s what it seems to be. It certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to know her and read her blogs and articles now, but it does make me think about integration, opportunities and lessons.
My children are grown now… but I will tell anyone and everyone I can to make sure your children take the opportunity to learn from people with physical and/or mental challenges… they are strong, they are inventive, they are creative. I believe that my parents and my guiding leaders missed the opportunity to teach ME to be open to friendships that may not be typical or simple. Ones that may take some work or creative planning to foster. I believe these lessons would have helped me be a better friend, a better wife, a better mother.
I wish I’d done more as a child to get to know this beautiful and accomplished woman… I’m know I would have been a better person for it.
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