A recent case of disability discrimination in a Texan school shows more has to be done to protect the rights of children with disabilities.
A lovely lady in the US, called Mary, reviewed my book recently. She is a writer from Washington DC who, like me, suffers from cerebral palsy. We struck up a relationship over email and were soon trading stories about our various experiences growing up with the condition.
Mary told me how, at school, her physical impairment was often confused with a mental handicap. I responded with similar anecdotes including one where a local school refused to accept me on the grounds that I was a ‘fire hazard’!
Despite this ‘descrimin-off’, Mary and I were both of the opinion that society had moved on a great deal since those days. I could not conceive of any modern-day educational establishment coming out with the sort of extreme comments, which my parents had to endure when I was a young schoolboy… that is until last week.
One story, which made the news recently in the US, was that of 5-year-old Lakay Roberts. Lakay attends school in Texas. She has mild cerebral palsy and relies on a metal walking frame or ‘walker’ to get around.
Unfortunately, Lakay had an accident when her walker collapsed in the school car park. As far as I can gather from the articles, Lakay was not seriously injured. However, the school’s special needs director responded to the incident in a rather peculiar fashion: He banned the use of the walker.
The reason behind this decision seems equally bizarre. Apparently, the school wanted to protect the other children from the dangerous metal contraption. In a meeting which was secretly taped by Lakay’s mother, she was informed that her daughter “can’t use the walker because we (the school) don’t think it’s safe.”
Lakay’s mother now intends to bring a legal case against the school in order to reverse the decision and to request an apology.
Upon reading the article I was shocked on a number of counts. Firstly, it seems incredible to me that a special needs director (someone who is presumably charged with looking after the requirements of disabled children) should think the decision to ban the walker was either reasonable or appropriate in the circumstances.
Secondly, forbidding the use of the walker can only limit the child’s mobility. It will stall the progress she has made to date, whilst undoubtedly knocking her confidence.
Finally and more significantly, this decision could also isolate Lakay socially. As already mentioned, the unfathomable reason given by the school for banning the walker was not to protect Lakay, but to ensure the safety of the other children. This argument seems to identify the girl and her apparatus as a danger to the other pupils.
Perhaps the special needs director would be appeased if Lackay’s mother were to fasten a warning bell to her daughter’s walker. That way, everyone else would be warned of her approach and could flee from this terrible threat. Provided of course, the escaping children did not trip over their own feet during the confusion. In which case, the only sensible response would be to chop their feet off at the ankles!
To see a copy of one of the articles which covered this story, please follow: