Regular Lives for Families with Children with Disabilities
Interview with Kathie Snow
Produced by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
I Was Born Included
Kathie Snow: And so I think some of the challenges are, for younger parents whose children are just being diagnosed, is to realize, again, their children were born included. We do not have the right to take that away from them. Nobody has the right to segregate a child and put them away in some separate place, even if it's for their own good because a special ed preschool is better for those kids. It's like, no, being included is better and then providing whatever assistive technology and supports and accommodations.
And I was asked to speak to a group of students who were studying to be special ed teachers. And they said, "Well, Kathie, we do our practicum and some of our student teaching at a…" it's a public school and it was in a big city, a very big metro city, and they said, "That's where we do our practice teaching." And it's a segregated school.
And in this city, dozens of school districts from around the area sent their kids with disabilities there. So it was this self-contained campus from age three to age 22. This was just a short time ago. And I was just appalled that, in the 21st Century, a facility like that can be … and there actually were a few residential students. I was like oh, my gosh. In what other, in what other environment would we say it's okay to put three year olds in the same building with 21 year olds? We'd say that's not okay. No, you would not have three year olds in the same building with 21 year olds, but if they're children with disabilities, we say it's okay.
Well, when I first met her, she said, they said, "This is Kathie Snow, and you know, she's going to come talk to our college class this afternoon, but we wanted you to give her the tour and see where the students do their practicum." And they said, "She's also a parent."
And so they left me there to meet with this lady. And she turned to me and she said, and she was the assistant principal, and she said, "Oh, so you have a child with a disability? And I said, "Yes," I said, "Benjamin." And she said, "How old is he?" And I said, "He's 25." And she said, "Oh, so he's gone through the transition program. So what is his placement?" And I said, "He doesn't have a placement. He's going to college, just like his sister did."
We… Mars and Venus. She could not imagine what I was talking about. She could not see that a student with a disability could do anything except stay in the system, and go through the transition process as a young adult, and then get a placement. I mean she was expecting me to say he's in a residential facility, or he's in a group home, or he's in a sheltered workshop, or he's in a day program, or he's in, you know, some kind of employment program, as opposed to he's continuing his education, he's living a real life in the real world. She could not see that. I could… I could not see how she could not see that.
And so I think some of the challenges are…that we face are, again, there are some people that are living on Mars and some people living on Venus or whatever. So that we can't even sometimes have conversations because we can't see the same things. And so people like that lady, she had very good intentions. I had no doubt that she loved the children that she worked with, that she thought she was doing the right thing. But she is in the 19th Century. It's not even the in the 20th Century. It's in the 19th Century. So it's like I'm not quite sure how we get some people up to speed.
I like this quote from, I think it's Ogden Nash who said, "It's difficult to get a person to understand something when the person's job depends on him not understanding it." And so as long as there are people who are making a living at promoting old ways of thinking and old ways of doing stuff, then we're going to have difficulties moving forward.
And so I think, again, if people with disabilities and families take up the mantle of leadership and say, yes, no, maybe, we want this, we don't want that... a school like I just described could only exist if parents agreed to send their children to it. Nobody can force a parent to send their child there. If all the parents said, we do not want our children in this segregated self-contained building, ages three to 22 in the same building, the school would shut down.
And that's when I said earlier that things will change when we start saying no. That's what it's going to take. So we have the power. People with disabilities have the power. Our children have the power. We have to take the power and we have to use it.