During a self advocate training, one where both the very young and the 'getting on' were present, we were talking about school, and teasing, and bullying, and hazing. After hearing from one of the young people, a woman, not too much older than me, said, 'They wouldn't let me go to school. There had to be meetings. There had to be letters and doctors deciding. But finally, I got to go to school.' We chatted a bit about what it was like to want to go to school but to be disallowed, 'Because I was the way I am' she explained. She started school much older than the others, well behind the others socially and academically. It was very hard for her.
She told her story without embellishment. Full of fact, short on fiction, it was what it was. It was, simply, her journey. Some of the young people looked on, shocked. I don't think they knew, ever imagined, that there was a time when disability was a bar to education, to opportunity, to equal access. They looked to me, of course, for confirmation of her story.
I asked her to stand up. She did. A shy woman, she was unused to the attention. I said to the kids in the room. Because this woman fought to go to school, you have the right to an education. Because this woman dared walk into a place where she had been barred entry, you have the right to expect open doors. Because this woman courageously walked down hallways forbidden to her, to people like her, now all people with disabilities have that right. I think we owe her something.
It was their decision.
She stood, shaking, realizing for the first time what she had done.
Then the applause started.
At lunch break, a young woman with Down Syndrome, a quiet woman with an intense manner stopped beside her elder, placed her hand on the old woman's shoulder and said, louder than I heard her speak all day: