This summer held some amazing opportunities for me. At the top of the list – being in Washington DC for the 20th anniversary of the ADA at the National Council of Disability’s (NCD) summit.
I had posted about the summit while I was in DC and talked about some of the technology issues that were raised while I was there. I learned so much about other disability issues that I had never considered, including independent living and the role NCD has played throughout the years. But I was moved by some of the people that I met.
Take, for instance, 12 year old Tia Holmes. This kid was amazing. I was blown away by her poise and her ability to express herself and the confidence she had. She is a kid with a disability – cerebral palsy, I think. It affected her ability to speak so her speech was a bit difficult to understand. At 12, she participated in a panel discussion with other adults who have disabilities, talking about their experiences. Marca, the panel’s moderator and former chair of NCD, asked Tia to talk about her experiences at school. Mind you, this kid is in middle school – not a fun place to be for any kid at that age let alone a kid with an obvious disability. The one thing Tia said has been resonating in my head over and over again for the past few weeks – “Everyone is different so why is being different so different?”
The other panelist who really moved me was Sgt. Karl Plasco. He had been deployed to Iraq twice and had been injured by roadside bombs both times. He came to the summit to participate in the panel only 4 days after having surgery to wire his jaw shut as part of his rehab for his most recent injuries. He had several broken ribs, needed significant reconstruction of his shoulder and probably had head injuries as well. But there he was, realizing for the first time that he was an individual with a disability. He replied to Marca, “I never really thought that I was a person with a disability. I’m just a busted up dude.” We work with a lot of veterans at Empire State College so I really appreciated his candor and his ability to express what so many of the wounded warriors say to me when I tell them that they qualify for accommodations – no, thanks. I just got hurt a bit but I’m really fine.
Attending this summit made me realize just how much I love what I do. I enjoy helping students identify and overcome barriers that are in their way. I love helping faculty to recognize new issues that they had taken for granted and didn’t think of. I thrive on sharing what I have learned with my colleagues, particularly about accommodating students with disabilities in online courses. Taking this course this summer has made me better at that. I understand more about the tools that may be used and the ways in which students may be asked to interact with their online courses.