Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One Year Ago: What Ableism Didn't Do

(This is my second post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).  It's a follow-up to my post last year - you don't have to read the post from last year for this one to make sense, but it might be a good idea.)

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014

One year ago.

That's how long it's been.

One year ago I stood shaking from head to toe in a teacher's lounge bathroom trying not to throw up from sheer anger, shame, and anxiety.  One year ago, I listened to you call me belligerent for standing up for myself.  One year ago, I heard you say these exact words:

"I'm forced to conclude that either you've been making excuses, or you haven't been being truthful with us."

Do you remember those words?  Do you remember that meeting, that two hour meeting, where you said "This isn't about your limitations, you're the one who keeps bringing them up"?  Do you remember how hard I cried?  Do you remember telling me that you couldn't recommend me for student teaching?  Do you remember how you looked at me like I had three heads when I mentioned the Disability Services Office, and how you skated around the word disability so many times?  How I finally snapped and said "You can say "disability", you know.  I'm not afraid of it."?

I'm still not afraid of it.  I wasn't then, and I'm not now.

One year ago, I was effectively kicked out of the education major at a university that is fairly well known for their education program.  I was given a choice to switch my major or graduate without teaching certification.  Kicked out for no other reason than my disabilities.  Because a disabled teacher will apparently lose the respect of her students.

One year ago, ableism knocked me down.  But I got back up.  Here's what ableism DIDN'T do.

Ableism didn't stop me from getting my diploma.  In December, I walked across that stage with my head held high, silently shouting "FUCK YOU" to everyone who tried to stop me from getting to that moment.  I now possess a B.S in Education - which, given what happened, is an appropriate abbreviation.  I don't have teaching certification, but that's okay.  I have my own path.

[Short girl wearing maroon graduation robes and cap leaning on a hot pink walker with snowy bushes in the background.]

Ableism didn't stop me from getting a job - two, actually - as a freelance writer for two different websites.  It's not a usual job.  It's not a job with an hourly wage.  It's not a 9 - 5, go into an office job.  But it makes me a little money sometimes, which is more than I had before.  It gives me hope that someday, someone might want to hire me "for real".  Someday, I may be able to support myself.  And one of the very first things I wrote?  Was about how accepting the students in the classroom I did my field experience in were of my disability.  I said nothing about the attitudes of the adults.  Do you feel ashamed, that a group of third graders was more mature than you?

And finally, ableism didn't stop me from going for my dream degree - a M.A in Disability Studies.  I've been dreaming of this program since high school and nothing and no one - no, not even you - was going to stop me.  I'm nearing the end of my first semester in the program and I enjoy it in a way I never enjoyed the education program.  I look forward to going to class each week and I've made some great friends - and even found a boyfriend.  Finally, I get to do what I want to do.  No thanks to you.

I hesitate to say I've recovered, because I haven't.  I hesitate to say I've forgiven and forgotten, because I most certainly haven't.  So many nights over the past year, I've lain awake at night obsessing over the events that happened to me, the things that were said.  Trying to figure out what the fuck happened.  I have obsessed and cried and been unable to get it out of my head.  I have launched myself into a full scale panic attack a week before graduation because I knew I'd see you and the others who did this to me.  I have been traumatized, and it's sadly not the first time.  The scars on my soul will never fade completely.  I hope you're proud that you put them there.

But I've moved on and I'm kicking ass, in my own way.  Ableism did a lot of things.  But ableism didn't break me.  And because of that, you failed.  You thought you won, but you didn't, not really.  Because I bounced back, a little more bruised, a little more bloody, but I bounced back.  I hope someday, something I wrote lands in your inbox and you feel ashamed of what you did to me.  A sincere apology would be nice, but more than that, I hope you never treat someone the way you treated me ever again.  Change is a powerful thing, and I hope you learn lessons from the things you did to me.

I'd like to end with a quote from one of my favorite songs, Brave by Sara Bareilles.  I don't think it's a coincidence that both this song and Roar by Katy Perry - two absolute anthems against bullying, hatred, and oppression - came out the summer after I was forced out.  I don't believe in God, but I do believe in Fate - and I think Fate gave me the tools to get through my experiences.  As long as I live, I will fight to make sure no one has to go through what I went through.  You fueled my activist fires even more.

Your mistake.

"Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do

When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave"


Anonymous said...

I can so relate. Unfortunately, I,t oo, haven't recovered from y college experience (I was refused accommodatoins which forced met o drop out). It was seven years ago and I for one have never been ableot finish a degree again,b ut I'm trying to study for enrichment purposes only. I was also essentially kcked out of college the year before this refusal to accomodate me happened, only given my foundation certificate if I didn't go on in this field, but guess what, I'm studying in the same filed now. I will never become a psychologist, which is what I majored in, but I will learn a lot.

Never That Easy said...

I'm so glad to hear that you're doing so much of what you wanted to do. I also graduated with a degree in education that was hard fought & earned. I never expected the abelism I encountered in that institution, & I haven't forgiven/forgotten it either. It shouldn't be like that, and yes: my students were always 1000% x more accepting than my professors. But I'm so glad for all the things it hasn't done, and for all the things you have.

Mighty Adamski said...

I really think that you should send a tweet to Kutztowns twitter with this link. They may ignore it but I'm sure it will get some attention. I would, but its not by story it's yours. The lawsuit was my FU to them let this be yours!

The Goldfish said...

This is a super post. Well done Cara - it's so good to hear how much you've achieved this year.

michael watson said...

Education often fails persons of disability. Yet, sometimes it embraces us. I am glad you persevered and found a home!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that definitely wasn't right of them to kick you out!!! I am experiencing some accommodation issues at a collage myself with my own Cerebral Palsy related mobility issues. Now that I am in the collage world I see how disabled I truly am and how it might effect me in the workforce and world at large as I get older. So I understand some of what you are going through. I have to wonder however, maybe you sent them some mixed signals without meaning to. I noticed a lot of able bodied people who deal with activists like you are scared out of their minds to say something related to disability wrong because people sue so easily these days. The school board where I live was always afraid I would sue. That's probably why they didn't want to say the word "disability" to you. I also learned from my own experience to only ask for accommodations I truly require and not bring up my disability constantly. If I bring up my disability constantly it makes people around me, even other people who are disabled, annoyed because it is almost another form of ablism/disablism where I am letting my disability control my life, and accidentally taking advantage of others. It can make you come across as a high maintenance person who is a complainer and will be a drag to work with. I by no means condone what your school did, that was awful, but you should see if you are bringing up the disability aspect to others too often. I'm not trying to be mean here and you always make wonderful posts(I'M A HUGE FAN OF YOUR BLOG!) but this is something I noticed that I thought I had to share. No offense intended whatsoever. Best of luck on the job hunt! :)

Jo Kelly said...

After my first year of college, I applied as a camp counsellor at a camp for kids with disabilities. I was interviewed by a woman not much older than myself who clearly stated that they were not in the habit of hiring persons with disabilities. Nice eh! 20 years later I ran into that woman at a function, she seemed to remember me so I threw this at her and she claimed to not recall any of it. I made darn sure she would remember me and the incident next time. But that experience only fed my ambition and I'm happy to say I've been very successful over the years and have a great position now with an engineering firm.
One thing Cara, and I say this only as an experienced person who cares, you need to understand that only YOU controls your feelings - no one can "make" you feel a certain way about yourself or a situation. It's hard to learn but you'll be much happier when you accept your feelings as your own - OWN THEM!

Anonymous said...

I am so sad reading this since my school is loaded and I mean loaded, with disabled teachers and one of my other disabled friends just got a new teaching job. What your college did was so wrong.