I had an overwhelming feeling that I was witnessing history. The world was changing right before my eyes. Walls had fallen and eyes were opened.
I needed to photograph it, to save it, to somehow capture what was happening.
The children were being changed. They had already been changed, actually. At the party they were just living in their change. And it was natural.
Did the children even notice it? Did they remember what life was like before they were changed? Did they even realize it happened?
It was their Valentine’s Day party. They were having fun with friends at the 6th grade party. There were snacks, hearts, cupcakes, paper plates, and Capri Sun. There were smiles and giggles They were having a party with their friends.
They were friends.
What I witnessed that day was a changed community. A group of 6th graders who are forever changed. Forever different.
This group of children does life with Chloe. It doesn’t matter to them that she uses a wheelchair. It doesn’t matter to them that she doesn’t say much. She’s a part of the group, and they’re friends. She does life with them. They know her.
They greet her each morning because she’s their friend.
They don’t get freaked out when Chloe forgets to watch for their toes in her path; instead, they jump out of the way and laugh. They don’t stare when she cries out in class. They ask her what’s wrong and encourage her to use her words. They aren’t annoyed when she makes noises with her mouth. Instead, they use the context, look for clues, and figure out what she’s trying to say.
They listen to her. They know she has something to say.
And these 6th grade boys and girls? They will someday be Chloe’s neighbors. They will someday be her doctor or her boss. They will someday be Chloe’s pastor. And they will know her. And they will listen to her.
They will stand up for her and will speak up for her because they know her.
These 6th graders aren’t like the kids at the mall who stop and stare at the sight of a girl using a wheelchair. They are no longer like the children in the store who act afraid when Chloe approaches them.
They are changed because they know Chloe.
Ask me if inclusion works. Ask me if I believe that everyone benefits from inclusion. Ask me if I think it will change the world.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
I just watched it happen. It happened right in front of my eyes.
That’s why it’s important for Chloe to be out in the community. She goes to the library. She goes to the movies. She goes to festivals.
Want to learn more about inclusion (in school, in the community -- in general)? Check out the Inclusion Works! Conference, an annual conference put on by The Arc of Texas. Stipends or special prices for parents are frequently available for this conference. You can also learn more on this website under Kinds of Educational Placements. Search this site at Find Services, Groups & Events for inclusive programs. Find groups at the local library or recreation center.
And get out into the community!