Earlier this year, I met a third-grade boy who stayed in a classroom by himself all day, except at lunchtime, when he joined his peers. I watched him wander around the lunchroom, not really knowing how to engage others until his aid led him to his table. I asked why he couldn’t choose to sit anywhere he wanted, as the other kids did, and I was told that parents of other children did not want him to sit by their children. He clearly didn’t communicate in the same way as other children, using spoken words, and I am not sure how much language he understood, but I do know that he understood how to learn from others.
In the lunchroom, there was custodian who had given another child the same broom and dustpan that he was using. Together, they walked around scooping up trash. The third-grade boy I was observing, walked up to the custodian and reached for the broom. The custodian handed the boy the broom and dustpan and the boy went to work. He picked up some trash and handed the tools back to the adult, with a look of accomplishment.

For many years, I have been advocating for children with disabilities to have access to their peers and to have the same rights and privileges as their non-disabled peers. On this day, hearing that parents feared a student with disabilities, reminded me that this message needs to be heard beyond education systems and school policy.  Jo and I had long conversations about social justice in this situation and the need for a societal shift that looks at ability and engagement rather than grouping individuals by their differences. That same month I received the email for Tedx.

Jo said, its time!

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