School’s Touching Accommodations

If you are a parent, you know the feeling of pride that comes from watching your child(ren) perform in a school play or sing at an event; you’ve experienced the joy that occurs when you visit the classroom or engage in school activities with your child(ren). But, imagine if you had to stay outside the classroom door or couldn’t make it into the auditorium to watch the show. Imagine the feelings of guilt, sadness and separation you’d feel if you couldn’t participate the way every other parent was able to participate. Unfortunately, this happens more than you may think. When a parent uses a wheelchair, or doesn’t have the ability to climb stairs, there’s often no choice but for them to miss out on various aspects and events in their child(ren)’s life. For no other reason than structural inaccessibility, some disabled parents are placed in the awkward position of not being present in their child(ren)’s affairs. I’ve had to hear about my daughter’s classroom activities from other parents and it left me feeling embarrassed, guilt-ridden and upset. I’ve heard other ‘wheelie’ moms express anger, frustration, grief and humiliation at having to miss out on things because they couldn’t gain access into the venue.

When my daughter first started kindergarten at her new school, there were plenty of handicap parking spots available, but none were van accessible. The principal and school security officer both told me to simply make my own spot or take up 2 of the handicap spaces. So, for the first few months of school, that’s what I did. The school is extremely wheelchair accessible once inside – the entire layout of the lower and upper floors flows together via ramps and an elevator is in place. I’m able to go anywhere inside the school I need to go. But there was only one entrance that was level for my power chair to go through and it’s located at the main entrance, which is two schools down from the elementary school (the school itself contains preschool through high school). I would try my best to park near the main entrance whenever I arrived for school activities and then make my way through the high school and middle school to the elementary wing. I was able to attend all her class parties, her performances and the like. It was wonderful, and I had no complaints. I was simply happy to be able to go and be!

During the 3rd month of fall semester, the principal told me they’d put in a van spot for me right by the elementary school! I was excited and felt quite fortunate that the school had made accommodations for me. The only problem was that once I parked, I still had to trek up to the main entrance to get into the school. They had not realized there wasn’t a way into the elementary school for me. I told them it was no big deal (and this was true but on rainy days and as the weather got colder, it wasn’t the most ideal).

 

Right before Christmas break, I arrived one afternoon to pick up my daughter and a couple of faculty members approached me. They asked if I’d seen what the principal had made me. Apparently, the principal had decided not to waste time waiting for approval and necessary funds from the budget – he’d spent that day building me a ramp into the elementary school!! I was moved to tears! It sent me the message that I was just as important as the able-bodied parents; that I was wanted and needed there; that I was respected. They recognized my need to be with my child. My daughter’s school made it possible for me to have the same access as the other parents. But, it was what the Headmaster said to me that really meant a lot: he told me yes, it was done for me, but that it would be there for other parents like me in the future.

So, it seems that while they have given me two huge gifts in the form of making the building more accessible, I in return have given them a gift – the gift of awareness. I’m so thankful for all of this!! Using a wheelchair should never prevent me from being present in my daughter’s life but the reality is that it has. And there will be more times in the future that it will. But, as society becomes more aware of the existence of parents with special needs and is educated about the need for accommodations, disabled parents will gain equal access in places such as schools, gyms, auditoriums, etc. There will be a day when we no longer experience our child(ren)’s lives vicariously but are fully engaged as we are meant to be.

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Mommy’s Nervous About Kindergarten, too!

Today, my daughter began Kindergarten. For the past several days, she’s expressed the typical fears and nervousness about starting at a new school with a new teacher in a new building with new friends to make and so on…. We talked about her feelings and I tried to help calm her anxiety by pointing out all her amazing qualities, her strengths, the fact that everyone in her class was feeling the same way and by praying with her.

It wasn’t until we were walking (well, I was rolling…) down the hall that I started having my own worries and fears. Kids stared at us and I received the usual range of facial expressions – some children smiled sweetly, others looked at my chair with terror in their eyes and others frowned at me. The ‘peekers’ were there, too – the little kids who slide behind their parent and glimpse out at me shyly. While this is part of my normal, every-day life, it got me thinking about the days ahead for my own little one.

As I got into my van, I wondered if my daughter was in her classroom fielding questions about me. Was she having to explain why I’m in the chair? Was she trying to answer a multitude of questions about our lives instead of playing with the purple play-doh that had been set at her desk? I worried she was spending time advocating for me instead of making friends. Plus, she can get quite loud and vocal since she’s very protective of me: there was an incident at her last school where a boy laughed at a disabled character in a story book and my child screamed at him, “Disabilities are NOT funny!” While this is a trait of hers I’m quite proud of, I don’t want it to distract from her enjoyment or engagement in the classroom, especially a new class.

I know that what makes up our ‘normal’ are the stares, the comments, the whispers, the looks, the questions and what-not. I know none of this is new to either of us. Perhaps I’m worrying for no reason (most likely the case!) but I simply want my daughter to focus on and enjoy her first day of ‘big kid school’ and not have to automatically educate a class full of five-year-olds.

The guilt, the illogical but real guilt is back today. My differences have the ability to make my daughter different. While growing up with a disabled mother has impacted her positively, I worry it can have negative consequences as well. I hope she’ll be treated like any other child by the kids at her new school. I hope kids at this school will be just as easy-going as at her preschool – but these kids are older and this is a new experience for her as well as for me as a mom. Will my daughter be bullied because of me? Will she be shunned?

So, there it is – I’ve got the “First Day of Big Kid School” jitters, too. They’re probably all just us unfounded as my daughter’s fears but they’re real to me just like they’re real to her.

*So, I just picked her up a couple of hours ago and guess what? She had the best first day ever! She made “SIX new best friends” and apparently, none of them asked about her mom’s wheels!! What were we both so worried about??*

Special (Needs) Delivery!

Pizza Box Delivery Boy Man Concept Knocking at Customer Door Wall Background Retro Cartoon Design Vector Illustration

Credit: iStock.com/Meilun

My daughter and I enjoy going out to eat from time-to-time. There are times, too, when it’s much more convenient or comfortable to stay at home and order food to be delivered. We like pizza, Chinese and there’s a local deli that’s fabulous and offers delivery service. However, after several experiences with delivery drivers over the past year, something’s been swirling around in my busy brain so I’ve decided to write about it. I’m hoping it’s a chance to create an open-dialogue with businesses that offer delivery services about how to make accommodations for people with disabilities. It is often a company’s policy to prohibit their drivers from entering a home while making their deliveries. Having worked for a national pizza-chain, I understand that this is for the drivers’ safety. That being said, I wonder if the policy must be so black-and-white or if a gray area exists?

I’ve lived at my current address for several years and am a ‘regular’ customer of the eateries around my neighborhood. When ordering online, I write on my ticket “Disabled – may need help bringing food inside. Thank you!” When I call in an order, I ask that a note be made using nearly that exact wording. Yet, upon arrival with my food, I’ve had drivers tell me they can’t come in; it’s against the rules. Now, please picture me opening the door either using my cane with a wide foot-base or my power chair and perhaps you’ll see the gray area. I’m obviously not a threat to them and my appearance matches the comment on my ticket. Because of my balance issues, I’m only able to carry one thing into the kitchen at a time. This can take a couple of minutes because we usually have more than one box or we’ve also ordered drinks. Twice, I’ve had drivers tell me they’re “in a hurry, ma’am” or “have other deliveries waiting.” THAT’S a tad irritating because I’ve asked for help, it’s been declined so I’m doing the best I can do.

Let me make it clear that I’m not asking for special privileges due to my disability. I’m asking that the same accommodations that are made when I’m dining in a particular food establishment be made when I’m ordering in from that same business. I also understand that rules are rules yet I’m arguing that there are circumstances in life which can alter the necessity or validity of rules.

I’d like to make a suggestion to businesses that offer delivery services: Please notice the gray areas. There’s typically a section called “Special Instructions” customers can fill out when placing online orders – please make the necessary modifications or stretch the rules a bit in order to meet the needs of your customers with special needs. Just as the ADA grants those of us with disabilities the right to utilize and enjoy your restaurant while dining-in, please grant us the ability to do likewise when you’re bringing your services into our homes.