Rejected on the first day of school because I use a wheelchair

What’s wrong? is a Stuff disability podcast produced with support from NZ On Air. In the seven-part series, hosts Olivia Shivas, Rebecca Dubber and guests address the big questions about living with a disability. They discuss sex, religion, disabled parking – and how to push back on outrageous issues. Listen to it here.

OPINION: It was my first day of school. Five-year-old Olivia was a social creature and happy to make new friends.

I wobbled to the school gates with my leg braces, holding my mother’s hand.

As we approached the classroom, other children were running and playing on the monkey bars.

I was more of an arts and crafts girl, but if there had been an accessible playground, I probably would have played there too.

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I was born with muscular dystrophy, which means all of my muscles are weak. I used to walk in stirrups when I was a kid, but now it’s faster and easier for me to get around in a wheelchair.

Most parents get emotional on their children’s first day of school, but for my parents it was probably a little more traumatic.

My parents had met the school before; the school knew that I was disabled and that I was coming. But I don’t think they realized what it could be like until I showed up on the first day of school.

The principal addressed a calm note to my mother and told her that I could only go to school if she took care of me every day.

My mother was upset. She’s still emotional thinking about it, even now.

Paralympian Rebecca Dubber and Stuff Digital Producer Olivia Shivas host a disability podcast series called What's Wrong With You?

PICTVRE / SUPPLIED

Paralympian Rebecca Dubber and Stuff Digital Producer Olivia Shivas host a disability podcast series called What’s Wrong With You?

I wish I could say that the education of children with disabilities has improved a lot in 20 years, but it has not.

I have heard stories of children being sent home at lunchtime because there is not enough funding or support for a teacher assistant to stay with them all school day.

Disability advocacy group IHC now collects stories of children with disabilities who have experienced discrimination and take cases to the Human Rights Tribunal.

Eventually my school realized that I could follow other children academically. And in the end, my mom didn’t have to stay with me.

But I was only in this school for a term when my parents took me away so that I could attend another school specifically designed for children with disabilities – it emphasized physical exercise, not exercise. education.

In this other school, I learned to walk with orthopedic shoes. I socialized with other kids and learned nursery rhymes, but I was a long way from learning how to read and write for a typical 5 year old.

My parents really wanted me to walk and play in the playground, just like other kids on the first day of school; they probably thought that was the only way for me to be included.

THING

Olivia Shivas, Rebecca Dubber and guests address the big questions about living with a disability on Stuff’s podcast What’s Wrong With You? They discuss sex, religion, disabled parking – and how to push back on outrageous issues.

When I started another regular school the next year I needed to catch up with my studies, so my parents took me to math classes after school (which I hated, but they bribed me with lollipops).

Thinking back now, I wonder: if this first school had welcomed me, had been educated about disability, and had enough resources for me to be included, those early years of school probably wouldn’t have been a success. such a roller coaster for my parents or me.

I have come a long way since that first day of school, but I hope other disabled children and their families don’t have to experience the same first day as my family.

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