Tuesday, October 21, 2008

civil rights in a new light

I had a little experience at work yesterday that had made me think a lot over the past 24 hours. I think it is something worth sharing because of the passionate feelings it has generated in me.

I am currently working at a school in Granite School District(GSD) for two mornings a week (both mornings J is able to be home with Baby G because those are the days he goes straight to school instead of going in to work, so it has been a really fantastic situation). However, I am not employed by GSD. I am employed by The Elizabeth Academy, which I wrote about in a previous post. It is a private school, and since this is its first year and we weren't quite ready for our own place we teamed up with GSD. Anyway, the point is, that in the classroom (it is a preschool for typical children as well as kids with disabilities) there are at least two other adults at all times that are the GSD employees and they are technically the ones responsible for all the students in that class. I am there to work with the students that have special needs on a one on one basis, and I help a lot with classroom management as well. So, with that background, this is the important part.

Yesterday I had a small group of kids that I was working with. The other two adults were with the other half of the class on a walk to look for letters of the alphabet around the school. When they all came back one of the teachers came up to me with a disgusted look on her face and said (loudly enough for the students to hear), "We sort of have a problem with L's diaper." L is a five year old little girl with Down Syndrome, and she is not yet potty trained. I wasn't sure what she meant. I was like, "You mean she needs her diaper changed?" And the other two adults were all, "Uh yeah, and it smells really bad."

I was honestly shocked. I sat there for about two seconds looking at them and realized that each one was waiting for the other one to step up to the plate and offer to go change the diaper (it is supposed to be their job to do this since I am not even an employee of the district). Before either one relented, I got up, walked over and grabbed L's backpack, bent down and whispered to her that we were going to go change her diaper. The other teachers gave me looks of both relief and pity as L grabbed my hand and we walked into the hall. When we got into the bathroom there was a student in one of the stalls. We waited outside and looked at the fish until the student left so that L could have some privacy. Then as I changed her I quietly talked to her about her family and her dogs. When we were finished, I lifted her to the ground, we washed our hands and discreetly walked back into the classroom. As soon as we were back one of the other teachers asked, "Was it bad?" I pretended not to hear her.

So tell me, what is wrong with this picture? Are you as upset about this as I was? Let me let you in on why I am still fuming about this whole thing.

People, ALL people, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Even 5 year old little girls with Down Syndrome. L did not deserve to have the news of her dirty diaper being broadcast to the other kids in the classroom. That is embarassing to her. Clearly the other adults did not think that she would be aware of those social cues, but let me tell you, she is all too aware. She didn't need someone changing her diaper who was going to make her feel like a disgusting animal while they were changing it either. She knows she has a poopy diaper, and she knows that it isn't pleasant to change. She should NEVER be made to feel like she isn't worthy of having dignity. That is why I quietly talked to her while changing her. Trust me, she is uncomfortable with being naked on a table and having the contents of her diaper looked at. It is obvious. She deserved to be made as comfortable as possible in that situation. We slipped back into the classroom in a way that the other students wouldn't have even noticed that L was gone until one of the teachers had the nerve to ask how the diaper change had gone.

Are you kidding me? Do you really think that it is fair to L to sit there and discuss her diaper in front of the other kids? Are there really people in this world that think that just because someone has a disability they don't have the right to be treated with the same respect and concern any one else deserves?

In college I remember one of my professors (hi Katie!) saying something to the effect that the fight for equal treatment of people with disabilities will be the last civil rights battle we will all face. I think she was right.


KaCHeRS said...

Liz I'm fuming with you. That is unbelievable. I'm so glad that L had you there, to treat her with the dignity that she deserved. UH it's disgusting - and I hate to think how often this is happenning? Did anything further happen with the other teachers?

Engrained Emotions said...

How can we be so mean to each other? How is it we have forgotten how it feels to be treated differently, to be hurt, to be embarrassed, to be not accepted or welcomed or equal? Why can't we all just pitch in and help each other along our journey.

I am sad. Sad that we can't see what this experience we call life is all about.

What a blessing you are to so many different people. Can I bring my daughter A to your class? She could use some of your gentleness and love!

Lucy, Marc and Katie said...

We have so much more teaching to do.

Staci said...

I stumbled upon your blog from Mandy's. I am disturbed by your story. I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter with Down Syndrome. I would absolutely hate for my daughter to be treated like that. It makes me furious that teachers who are trained in special education and know what they are getting themselves into would act like that. I am grateful that there are people out there, like you, that would be understanding of a child and help them in the best possible way. I hope that my daughter will be lucky enough to have wonderful people like you teach her.

Camie, Juan, and Leyna said...

That crazy! You would think adult would be a little more mature! Well, thank goodness you were willing to treat her with dignity and respect. I look up to for all you do and stand up for! You go girl!

The Butler's said...

Sometimes I am amazed at the insensitivity of others. They either don't think, or don't think that what they are saying or doing is inappropriate and rude. One of my clients was walking at the gym and a teenage boy started calling her names just because of her disabilities. I'm glad there are more kind people in there world than there are ignorant ones.

Mandy and Roger Woodhouse said...

that makes me think of a book..."Expecting Adam"... one of the most amazing books I've ever read because it changed my views of people with disabilities. I don't know what I used to think for sure, but this made me realize and understand how amazing they really are. way to go Liz. Way to go.

Lucy, Marc and Katie said...

With Lucy I wasn't too sick after the first trimester...thanks for asking.

Bryan and Christy Clark said...

Your comment made us laugh. Bryan said "oh whatever!" I wish I could have been around when you had lots of guy friends with nice abs in swimsuits =) haha.

Kim said...

L...THANK YOU. I was just reading in the Ensign last night, the abortion article, and loved how he talked about everyone having the opportunity for life...even with disabilities because we can learn so much. I am so thankful that you were there to help L...to be the one to change her and help her to FEEL better, not only physically but emotionally too. I can't believe people can be so cruel.

Thank you for teaching me!