Saturday, January 06, 2007


Tony wrote the letter. A few others joined in a day or two later, but it was Tony that wrote the first letter. It got published too, in the Toronto Sun to be exact. Tony was one of the students that attended the high school where I worked as a classroom aide. At lunchtime we would go into the cafeteria and, through the desires of the students, we always sat together at the same table. The other students had names for that table like 'crip corner' but the kids with disabiliites didn't seem to care. We just gathered there and the one's that needed assistance got it, the others that didn't just ate on their own. We laughed a lot at that table. This alone would have separated us from the rest of the school. They were all into being cool, being bored, being superior. Not us, we just laughed.

But on the warm days, and there were lots of them, we'd go outside and sit in the parking bay where the buses pulled in to drop off the 'special kids' who required 'special transport'. We couldn't go onto the park like grounds because there was no cut curb access. So we had to make do with the pavement. The students liked to bitch about this, I listened and finally said. Why are you just bitching, why don't you do something about it. They looked at me like I had two heads and then went on about their business.

A few days later the newspaper ran a story about students with disabilities attending school, being 'mainstreamed'. I encoured them to write letters to the editor about their school and about how, though the school was accessible, the grounds were not. That they had to have lunch on pavement while other students played on grass. Tony rolled his eyes and spelled out, "A . L. L. R. I. G. H. T. I. W. I. L. L. W. R. I. T. E." on his letter board. With a flick of his head I knew he wanted to be set up at the adapted typewriter. An hour or so later, his letter was written and sent off to the Sun.

They published first his. Then letters from three other students.

We had a cut curb two weeks later.

They were jubulant. I myself was surprised at how fast the letters translated into action. The first few days after the curb was cut were rainy. But the first day the sun shone we were out there for lunch. Tony got to drive his chair - a huge contraption with a motor that could power a VW Beetle - over the curb and onto the grass. Then the others did. They got to be on the grass with everyone else. The world was adapted for them.

But what made it sweeter, is that they had taken action. They had dones something. That cut curb had their names on it.

Later that day you could see all of them thinking. Eyeing each other. Realizing that they had more power than they thought. That their combined voices could change things.

Not long ago a friend of mine moved into an apartment of a house not far from the school. In fact we drove by the school regularly when leaving his place for home. I have many memories of that school but I'll always remember how a curb was cut using the sharp edge of protest. I'll always remember how those faces looked everytime we went out for lunch outside. I'll always remember how Tony's letter began ...

"It has recently come to my attention that I have rights ... "

This is how it begins.



Belinda said...

What a powerful story.

First you had to rein in your self and not take action "on behalf of," which would have been so easy to do but as wrong as doing nothing. But to challenge others to take responsibility, to move from the "acted upon" to "activist"--now that's worthy of applause.

So I'm cheering Tony and I'm cheering you! Yeay!

Lily said...

"Why are you just bitching, why don't you do something about it."

Indeed. Why don't we all stop bitching and do something about it?

I'm really good at the bitching part... I'm really good at talking about how powerless I am, we are. I'm really good at saying, by default, how powerful "the system" is and how power-less we are to change anything.

"Why don't you do something about it"?.

That's where real change happens, isn't it? When an attitude changes from "This sucks" to "Let's roll".

Onward and upward, comrades! Let's roll!

Suzanne said...

It's amazing how you can retrieve such empowering memories and put them into print for people like me to discover. What's even cooler is that you can impact people even years after you originally put those memories out into cyberspace. So for that I just want to say Thank-you.

Anonymous said...

Where might a curious reader find a copy of Tony's letter?