For Sarah Richards, school was an escape from her disability, but it was also a constant battleground. In this article, Sarah gives a personal account of her experiences at primary and secondary school.
this article, Sarah gives a personal account of her experiences at primary and secondary school.
I have a rare genetic condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which means my bones are fragile.
I’ve broken over 30 bones, but my condition only impacts my physical ability, not my intellectual ability.
For this reason, my parents decided to send me to a mainstream school, so I could engage in stimulating learning with my peers.
But the school didn't just see me as a student. They also saw me as a “disabled” student.
The head of special education of the school told my mum that students like me would only ever achieve Cs and Ds.
Another time, a teacher walked into my classroom and chuffed when she saw me and the two other students in wheelchairs. “You got three wheelies in your classroom. Aren’t you lucky?” she said to my teacher.
My teacher just rolled her eyes and laughed. “I know,” she said.
It seemed as though the school’s mindset was that students with disabilities weren’t as valuable. This affected my confidence and desire to want to do well at school.
People with different disabilities have different needs
One of the biggest misunderstandings of disabilities is the actual definitions of disabilities.
Disabilities vary among individuals, as do the needs of each person.
Throughout my schooling, I was constantly explaining and re-explaining my disability and justifying the support I needed from the school. The school often struggled to understand my disability was only physical.
When I was in primary school, I once requested a teacher aide to help me attend my swimming class with the rest of my peers.
My doctors had said I was able to go swimming but only if someone was able to supervise — so no students would accidentally kick me while in the water.
But the school told me I didn’t need a teacher aide because some of the other students with disabilities in my grade didn’t require one for swimming.
I didn’t understand, because I was the only one in the entire school with my exact disability.
I negotiated and explained that if I didn’t have a teacher aide to support me, my only choice was to sit on the sidelines every week for an hour.
The school finally agreed.
As a child, it can be challenging to vocalise your feelings, but it’s even harder when you’re a child with a disability trying to vocalise your needs to adults in charge.
Teachers need to look past a student’s disability
In my senior years of primary school, a teacher pulled me aside and told me he couldn’t see pride in my work.
And the truth was I had never associated the words “pride” and “my work”, because I didn’t think my teachers expected better from me.
After that conversation, I changed my attitude to my learning, and I began to believe if I tried hard enough, I could achieve excellent results like the other students.
In high school, I was grateful to have many teachers who could look past my wheelchair and see my potential.
One teacher asked me what I wanted to do after high school. I told her I wanted to be a journalist but I wasn’t too confident in my ability.
After that conversation, without my knowledge, she began emailing newspapers and magazine companies.
One week later, she had secured me an internship at a local newspaper.
She believed I could be a journalist. This encouraged me to study journalism, and next year I will be graduating university with a journalism degree.
School is where children with disabilities can feel normal
School was my taste of normality, and it is this way for most children with disabilities.
Outside of school, the lives of children with disabilities are constantly intertangled with the medical world.
They have to be brave and brace themselves for their lives to change dramatically at any moment.
Due to my condition, I missed a lot of school — anywhere from a few days to three months at a time.
One day I’d be sitting in class; the next day, I'd be lying in a hospital bed with two broken legs and getting ready for an eight-hour surgery.
I treasured every time I was able to put on my school uniform and attend a class like the other children my age.
So, it hurt when my teachers didn’t support my learning experience because all they saw was my disability.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one with this experience.
So, if you’re a teacher and have a student with a disability in your class, ask them what their dreams are and help them aspire to achieve those goals.
And if you’re a parent with a child with a disability, realise that your child has so much potential and can achieve greatness.
I’m very grateful for my parents and the teachers who saw past my disability and pushed me to achieve my dreams.
Source: Educational ABC