Monday, December 03, 2012

International Day of Persons With Disabilities: Three Stairs

In my school, when I was growing up, there were a set of three stairs that separated the old school from the extension, which was added later.Three stairs that. by the time I came along, thousands and thousands of students had made their way up or down. Some of the coltish boys would take a run and leap from one level to the other, ignoring the stairs altogether.

I never thought about those stairs.

I never thought about what they represented.

It didn't cross my mind that in the construction of a school that planners had planned and authorities had approved those three stairs. Three stairs that indicated that the idea of kids with disabilities would not, now or ever, be considered. My mind rushes over the faces of the kids in my class. Susan and Dale, Darlene and Dawn, Jim and Mark, Mike and Jennifer. All of them. I can see their faces. All of them kids who easily skipped, jumped or plummeted down those stairs. All of them kids who could race, leap or trudge up those stairs.

All of them.

Me included.

Not thinking for a moment what those stairs represented.

Not asking a single question that began with 'why' moved to 'disability' and ended with 'excluded.'

Not because we were bad kids.

We lived in a small town where everyone walked. No one rolled. No one. Ever. I strain and I strain but I can't remember seeing a wheelchair at any point in my childhood. I grew up in a town full of hearty men with hearty wives, a town making money from the zinc that was mined up steep mountain roads. A town and a time where people spoke of pleasant things in pleasant tones. I never heard the word 'disabilty.' Ever.


Later, much later. I stepped into an institution for the very first time. In that place I saw what society did to those who were born with intellectual disabilities. People lived lives of quiet desperation waiting in day rooms, waiting in front of the television, waiting staring at the door for visitors that didn't come.

Later, much later. I stepped into a 'special school' for kids with physical disabilities. There was noise, noise, noise, kids laughing, kids fighting, kids racing pell mell down hallways. The noise was so distracting that it was hard to notice as you walked through the school, even from the old part into the new part that there weren't three steps. The school was accessible to itself, but closed off from the world up three steps.

No one ever asked me to consider.

Where they were.

Why they weren't there.

Who decided that they could be disposed of in other towns, other places.

Today is the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Today we celebrate the advances made. Today we consider the distance yet to travel. Today we commit ourselves to barrier free environments, barrier free employment, barrier free education.

In my mind I am sitting in my wheelchair at the top of three stairs that lead from where I am to where I want to be. In my mind I wonder when the apology will come for the cruelty, not of exclusion, but of not being considered at all.


Anonymous said...


I am still here. I hear you, I learn... and from your stories I am always more aware!


joanne said...

thank you Dave :) some things do eventually get better in this world.

Glee said...

and many are still locked away.

CapriUni said...

Thank you, Dave. I will post this on my personal journals to signal-boost within my circle.

But I find myself asking:

"Why didn't I know this date was coming up (or that it even existed)?"

If I had, I would have planned, in advance, for ways to spread the word, and celebrate.

But I guess, in many ways, we are still not considered.

Emily Davis said...

Hi Dave, thanks for posting this. It really makes you stop and think about how the thoughtless decisions of some can really impact other people, even if the decision was not intentionally made to hurt anyone. Decisions, especially ones like this that involve physical environments, really baffle me. When people are building new houses or buildings, it is SO easy to build in universal access. It's often even cheaper!
I often find myself working with people in the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California. When they built their facility, they opted to include a giant spiral ramp rather than elevators or stairs because, well, it's accessible to everyone. It is also cheaper than having to have elevators serviced; it's safer when the power goes out; and it also looks really cool! (and gives us the chance to display the works of local artists on the walls as you go up).
Understanding physical barriers can be pretty easy, but understanding barriers that exclude people with non-physically based needs can be harder. I'm glad you drew this comparison so that we don't overlook people with cognitive needs.
I am working on a blog where we talk about these kinds of issues of inclusion and changing society to help foster inclusion. I'd love your thoughts, so check it out at if you can.