Friday, November 28, 2008

Today Is for Tiffany

Several people have been talking about the news that for the first time since it was possible for a test to confirm a fetus has Down Syndrome that the number of families choosing to keep the baby has been increasing. I've been asked repeatedly if I was going to write about what this means. Join in the celebration as it were.

Well, I know I'm late to the party, but I wanted to think about it. I've heard some very hearty backslapping and congratulations ... all deserved ... for the work done by parent groups and various agencies whose tireless efforts have made a dint in the public prejudice and preconceptions which used to flourish (and still do) regarding Down Syndrome. I too offer my honest and sincere appreciation for their work and their dedication. I've had the honour of speaking to many Down Syndrome Associations and know of the deep love that these parents have shown their children, the deep passion these parents have for societal change.

I have worked with organizations that have struggled against community prejudice to offer community service and community living. I've been part of the process. Many reading this blog have fought the good fight and it's nice. Really nice. To regain some ground.

But, I remember, Tiffany. She was barely 6 years old when she became the first child with a disability to attend a school in her town. Her mother fought to close the segregated school and make mainstreaming a reality for her little girl. Mother was in tears that first morning her daughter went to school. She had gifted her daughter with something incredible.

But life wasn't easy for Tiffany. The teasing was at times unbearable. The tears of frustration from exclusion from parties and activities were real and painful. But that little girl got up every day and did the work placed in front of her.

She integrated her world.

She was Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk, Emmeline Pankhurst.

She dared to go where none had gone before. On six year old shoulders she carried the movement. She and only she could do it. She and only she could walk those hallways. She and only she had the power to change her world.

And she did.

And so did thousands upon thousands of people with disabilities. Those who dared reclaim schools, workplaces, churches, city streets, and local neighbourhoods ... reclaim them from the practice of exclusion. These hands, the hands of those with disabiities have pushed back the social frontier. These people, these devalued people, have endured, have survived and have ultimately conquered the space around them.

So, today, I'm thanking Tiffany. I've lost touch with her and her family. There never will be a statue built to celebrate the day Tiffany went to school. The day when prejudice met it's most valiant foe. That day that would lead to this day, where Down Syndrome belongs in hallways, not wastebaskets. That day that would lead to the birth of hope rather than the death of tragedy. No there won't be a statue.

This little tribute will have to do.


Thanks, Tiff.


Belinda said...

I am starting my day with tears in my eyes, and a cheer for a hero whose name represents more than I can find words to express.

Tiffany, wherever you are--and all who you represent, my heart acknowledges your courage under fire, and I stand with you.

All 4 My Gals said...

Thank you Tiffany for making the way for my daughter a bit easier.

And thank you Dave for continuing to share from your heart and change others' hearts in the process.

My family and most Tarenne, thanks you!

Becca said...

That's such a lovely tribute, Dave. My daughter is only just beginning her school career at 2 1/2, and I consider us very fortunate that people like Tiffany and her family have paved the way for school systems that are set up to include our children. I have no doubt Samantha will thrive in school and prove that people with disabilities have a very important, valid and valuable place in society.

abby said...

Thanks for that.

As I put my head down to try to push some of the snow out of the path for my little girl, I know that a few winters from now she will be out there on her own, having her Tiffany moment. And all the Tiffanys who have come before will be there with her, but the daily work is hers, and something I will never truly be able to join her in.

The most I can do is to help her gain the strength and confidence to go out into the world, and stand her by for the triumphs and the pain.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tiffany.
It is still difficult for my 6 year old with Down syndrome to attend school and "prove" that he belongs there each and every day, but last week he went to a classmates birthday party, and today he went over to a friends house on his first real play-date. Little things to some kids, but for my boy these little things might actually mean that he is accepted by some of his classmates as just being a buddy. Now, if only some of his teachers could accept him the same way.

mom to Adam (6)