I was watching the movie for story and theme--for inspiration, really. In helping to "Including Samuel," a movie about civil rights for disabled children, to our elementary school, I started referring to myself as "out" about having a disabled child. It felt the right analogy. Disabled children and their parents can be closeted one way or another--look at the controversy about the Travolta's son, or consider the fact that at our elementary school there are over 100 children with IEPs, yet most people consider the number of children with disabilities a very small part of the school community. I'm guessing that there are about 500 kids total in this K-5 school, so if over 100 have IEPs, then children with disabilities constitute about 20 percent or more of the school's population.
That is, if you equate having an IEP with having a disability. One of the aims of the federal government is to work toward inclusion education for all children; that is, blurring and softening the boundaries between general education and special education to make education as seamless a process as possible for all children. To this end, the federal government is both encouraging us to think differently about disability as well as attempting to make the IEP a tool for students with high needs. "Response to Intervention" (RTI) is a good example of this: guidelines that allow a child with different learning needs to receive help without going through the IEP process.
How do I feel about this? I'm not sure. As I said, we're out. Robert's in a wheelchair with a fluorescent green frame--there is no mistaking us for an ordinary family with an ordinary child. Other families can pass for normal; we can't. Why aren't other families more open about their child's disabilities? Disability is a charged word, and admitting disability has social consequences: stigma, isolation, loss of educational opportunity. Something like being gay in the 1970s.
I thought, during the movie, about my parents' reaction to my brother coming out of the closet. Looking back at it, part of their distress was a fear and concern for my brother's well-being on multiple levels: his physical safety, his career opportunities, his ability to fit into society as a whole. As more and more of my parents' peers have admitted their own children's sexuality (or their own), and being gay is less and less of an isolating experience, my brother's sexuality has seemed more and more normative to my parents and their worries and concerns have abated.
Being gay and being disabled are not the same thing, but the concerns my parents had about my brother and his future have parallels to my own concerns for Robert. As long as being disabled is something my child is and your child is not (regardless of the kind or degree of ability or disability), my child will face social stigma and decreased access to education, rehabilitation, and medical care. Because my child is different, lesser than your child.
One of the things I cannot yet come to terms with in the context of inclusion education is the way the phrase "all children" is used. On the one hand, I want the barriers to my son's progress to come down. On the other hand, I worry that "all children" is just another way, for some people, to emphasize what the majority of children need (and the majority of children are not disabled). This is, of course, the essential dilemma of identity politics: how to articulate specific needs and be accepted by society as a whole at the same time.
The revolution and the green wheelchair roll on.