Breaking down barriers through the arts
31 / 08 / 18
24 / 05 / 18
In this edition of Interfaith Voices, Steph reflects on this months theme Faith, Belief, Inclusion and Acceptance. Steph looks to her experiences growing up in the US as a disabled person, with a mixed family, in a diverse neighbourhood. Steph has experienced what lack of inclusion can feels like and places a high importance on education on diversity and disability in order better educate individuals on the need for inclusivity and open-mindedness.
Growing up as a disabled person with an adopted minority sister in the US opened my eyes to what amazing things can come from inclusion and what prejudice can do to harm the lives of others.
I grew up in a neighbourhood in the suburbs of Washington DC where white was the minority and were people from all ethnic and religious groups were represented. I was raised not to see colour, but to see a person as they were. Furthermore being a disabled person I was taught that inclusion of those with challenges, like or unlike my own, is a key part in promoting cooperation and inclusion. It was only when I started high school that I realised the whole world, even today didn’t think that way.
As a kid I was never very secure about my disability and sometimes I would get teased for doing things differently because I couldn’t see, or for the way my eyes looked because they were different. It was in high school that I experienced what a lack of inclusion felt like. I remember a time when a substitute teacher would always send me out of class when he was covering for another teachers because I would ask him for the adaptations. My regular teachers had become accustomed to my needs so this was quite difficult for me. For a long time this bothered me on a very personal level, but I came to realise that it was probably just a lack of knowledge and education that lead him to treat me in the way he did. He didn’t understand that I was partially sighted, with only some visual abilities, he didn’t take into account that what I was asking for things that I needed to do the classwork.
In school I experienced similar situations based on racial prejudice. When I was 11 my parents adopted my best friend. She was black and I was white and often we were treated differently even though she received better grades than I did and was as involved in extracurriculars as me. A lot of people at our school received similar treatment to my sister, as the school had a large population of non-white people. We used to receive the lowest amount of county funding of all high schools because the parents of the students weren’t wealthy community stakeholders.
My junior year of high school the county finally started giving my school some funding, but the money didn’t go towards the disability programs, which were widely underfunded, or towards programs that would benefit the majority of students at the school. The money went towards starting a new magnet program. This magnet program aimed to bring in students from wealthier and usually whiter neighbourhoods. This only increased the marginalisation of students like my sister.
All of this stemmed from a stigma that surrounded my school. As we were a poor school, subject to crime, and low performance the county often overlooked those students who worked hard and overcame a lot of obstacles. Saying to people “I went to Wheaton High School” would get me a lot of weird looks and people would usually not know how to react. The lack of inclusiveness that I felt, and watched my sister feel more so, all came from people not being educated on the realities of diversity. If the substitute teacher who used to send me out of class had been taught more about disability inclusiveness then I wouldn’t have been punished for something out of my control. Similarly if people in the county, and in the board of education were properly informed about students circumstances and their inspiring stories of overcoming adversity then maybe our school would have received the support it needed. This is something that unfortunately is a reality all over the US. Close mindedness and a lack of education on people of different groups and backgrounds leads to a cyclical prejudice that will continue unless changes are made.
My life experience has shown me how important inclusion is within society, it has also made me realise that I want to be apart of the solution. My experiences have fuelled my desire to share my story and the knowledge I have gained, in the hope of encouraging others to become more open-minded and accepting of differences.