Presumption of Self-Direction in LD students in Higher Education

Leading up to Self-Direction and Readiness in the Lower Level of Education

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) say that learners cannot be ready to learn if they are not motivated or willing to perform the tasks needed in a self-directing manner. Self-Directed Learners SDL must be self-managing (understanding of the significance of tasks and the intended outcomes), self-monitoring (understanding what is effective and having sufficient knowledge about established conscious strategies needed to make-appropriate decisions), and self-modifying (able to evaluate and adjust to constant meaning and changes) (Costa & Kallick, 2004). A self-directed learner who is empowered is more likely to participate in a two-year or four-year college (Berry, Ward, & Caplan, 2012).

According to Grow (1991), there are several presumptions made with regard to understanding a self-directed learner. Some of those assumptions are that self-direction is the primary goal of a secondary educational environment, that self-direction can be learned, and that self-direction is situational to learners and teachers. The problem with assumptions is that educators have not been able to specifically and adequately define what the self-directed learner looks like (Costa & Kallick, 2004). However, they do agree that a quality of a self-directed learner is a learner who is able to orient her/himself to the educational process at all levels, and that the inability of a learner to develop self-direction can be a serious limitation at the post-secondary level (Costa & Kallick, 2004; Grow, 1991).

Some good self-directed learning models exist. For example, Grow (1991) uses a Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) Model to show how teachers actively work with students to help them to become more self-directed. The stages of that model are:

Stage 1: Dependent Learner: A learner is solely dependent on an educator to provide immediate feedback on what, when and how to complete a task.

Stage 2: Interested Learner: A learner is motivated by the educator to begin goal-setting and developing learning strategies.

Stage 3: Involved Learner: A teacher facilitates the learning but in partnership with the student.

Stage 4: Self-directed Learner: The learners can work and function independently and is meeting expected outcomes.

In a traditional educational model, after students enter the classroom ready to acquire new knowledge, they progress through the classroom by moving from being scaffolded to making educational transitions, to meeting transformed outcomes (Tanner & Tanner, 2007; Baleghizadeh et al., 2010; Field, et al., 1998; Verenikina, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Shifting to the Lower Level of the framework, Grow’s (2001) Stages of Self-Direction are skills a student would develop in high school to be ready to begin a post-secondary education (Berry et al., 2012). See Figure 2.1, The Teaching and Learning Level.

Figure 2.1. The Teaching and Learning Level (from Chapter 1)

  • Stage 1 and Stage 2: Educator uses coaching and motivation methods to assist a student through the scaffolding process.
  • Stage 3: Learner moves forward and can transition from one learning goal to the next with limited assistance from the educator.
  • Stage 4: Learner becomes self-directed and can be successful in a post-secondary setting on her/ his own.

Beal (2005) places the burden of understanding one’s disability, their legal rights, and the securuing of the appropriate academic adjustments at the feet of the LD student. He lists five specific rights and seven responsibilities that students with LD have (Beal, 2005). The five rights are:

  1. To receive modifications on college entrance exams.
  2. To receive academic adjustments.
  3. To refuse to inform any PSI of any learning disability.
  4. To not have other’s ask for the disability to be identified.
  5. The right to be heard if it is believed any disability rights have been violated.

The seven responsibilities are:

  1. To become familiar with federal regulations that impact LD at PSI
  2. To understand what assistance is necessary to assist with specific LD
  3. To learn to effectively self-advocate
  4. To obtain documentation of LD
  5. To determine the availablity of support services
  6. To notify PSI of any LD
  7. To work with educators to address LD and unique accommodations

These rights and responsibilities presume that students have learned to be self-directing prior to enrolling in PSI (Beal, 2005). Grow (1991) calls self-direction the higher mental function that matures over time by and through a particular history and social interaction (p. 128). Unfortunately, most LD students are so busy learning the skills needed to move from task to task (Stages 1 – 3 of Self-Direction) in the classroom, that they are rarely, if ever, trained to be self-directed learners, nor are they trained to advocate for themselves as described by Beale (2005) (Hitchings, et al., 2010; Hitchings, et al., 2001). Such a situation creates a “catch-22” for the LD learner.

Full text: Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

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Using Creativity to Help Your Child With LD

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was going to be creating a board game for my sons to help them to retain information that they often loose during the school year.  The unofficial title is: The Richmond Pursuit! 

OK – so, it is not a very original name.

What did I sacrifice:

My dinning room table (it can always be covered when we have company), a sharpie marker, paint (we are still in the process of painting it), a cardboard box, printer paper, and lots of time.

What did that sacrifice buy us:

Time as a family, some fun time on the computer, and what we hope will be a great tool for studying.

How does it work?

  1. We use one of our tokens (action figures we created online) to advance around the board.
  2. We answer questions in the following subjects:
    1. Science
    2. Social Studies
    3. Language Arts
    4. Math
    5. World Languages
    6. Computers
    7. Bonus Questions (of various subjects)
    8. Mega Bonus Questions: Very difficult Questions created by Mom and Dad.

The winner will make one full loop around the board game first.

What are the rules?

Our rules are specific to our game board, but they are still being created. Once the rules are finished, I promise to let you all in.

How do we determine the questions?

Each of my sons has subjects that they are taking in school. Every week (throughout the week as well), they will take what they are learning in school and develop questions that they then place on index cards or type onto note cards. They write both the question and the answer on one side of the card. These become our trivia questions for the remainder of the year.  We eventually plan to have colors for every subject on the board and on the back of the card.

How does the project look so far?

Take a look at our photos of the project so far – again we will update as soon as we have more to show.  We will play a few games with this board even through there is not much color.  We chose superhero’s as our token and used a website designed by Marvel Comics to create superhero’s for each member of our house (we also created our own arch nemeses’ for every player). Marvel Comics can be found here:

(http://marvel.com/games/cyos) Marvel Comics has not allowed permission to use their name or image, but I always give credit. We are not selling any games, only using these made up characters as tokens in a home game. For this reason, I am not providing full photos of those characters – you can only see the back of each token as they lay on the game board we have been drawing.

IMG_2712 IMG_2711 IMG_2710 IMG_2709 IMG_2715 IMG_2716

IMG_2729-1 IMG_2737-1 IMG_2740-1

Parents as you begin to try to help your children, look around your home and see what you can find. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice a table. I chose this table because it was large and it was in a neutral place – a place where my sons already do homework, which makes it easy to keep up with (I hope).

A Letter to The President

When an attempt to advocate becomes utterly terrifying!

This week I did something I have not done before. Well, that is not exactly true, I have written to the White House before. I have never written to the White House With a gift and a letter.

I have been trying to teach my children about advocacy. What is it? Why is it important? Why do all voices need to be heard?

I have heard people exclaim: “Everyone has problems, so why complain?”

That is something to consider, I guess. Was I wallowing in self-pity or was I considering something larger than me?  So I thought about it.  And, even though I have researched this subject for years, I did a little more.

On the LD.org website, they state the following facts:

  1. Currently 2.4 million students are diagnosed with LD and receive special education services in our schools, representing 41% of all students receiving special education
  2. Close to half of secondary students with LD perform more than three grade levels below their enrolled grade in essential academic skills (45% in reading, 44% in math).

(http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/learning-disability-fast-facts)

My own research showed that LD students in post-secondary settings were at least 4 grade levels behind their peers. Additionally, LD.org is counting the students receiving services, not the students who have not been identified or the students whose parents have opted them out of services.

My conclusion was: This was not just about me. I had this fear of saying this message to a person of such importance, but I felt compelled to write, to make some type of difference, no matter how small.

The events that lead to me sending this gift are easy to relay.

I had been writing and writing about what it feels like to have learning disabilities. I wrote to Congressmen/women, Senators, State officials, local politicians, and anyone who I thought might listen.  My goal simple! Well, I thought it was at first.  I wanted to help them to see what I have been explaining and not just read my words on paper.  I did reach some groups and I was even privileged to have a sit down meeting about it.

What I discovered is that we are seeing trends that bother all of us. These trends include the lack of academic progress for students with LD, even with all the money that filters into programs for exceptional learners.

This other discouraging information had me thinking about wanting them (those people in a position to do something) to see what I was saying. In a matter of seconds, I found myself printing out a letter I had been working on, grabbing one of my paintings right off the wall and sprinting to my local postal center.

I knew if I thought about it too much, I was going to put the painting back in my car and take it home. Beating myself about the head for my cowardice – sure no one would have seen me be a coward, but I would have.

I was nervous about even sending it. Who in their right mind sends a painting to the White House? I don’t know the President personally. I don’t socialize in political arenas and I have never done something so “strange” in my whole life.

I was terrified that they would hate it. I told one of the kids, at least now I can say that my painting got thrown away at the White House.

I talked to my husband who told me to calm down and my lovely daughter said, “It’s ok your fine no need to know all the answers. And who knows have faith, the painting may plant a seed and you might never see the fruit, but you planted a seed and that is something to be proud of”

Though she will readily exclaims she is only repeating something she heard/read.  Her words were comforting to me. She was right, if the President never sees that painting, someone will. Someone will know that someone cared enough about this issue to send a visual to go with the words. After all, it was my wish to make even a small impact.

I will never know what becomes of that painting. I will not know if they throw it away or hide it or hate it, but I tried.

I ask you today to reach out and share your stories. In loving memory of a painting I will never see again, this post is dedicated to:

3rd Planet from the Sun

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

 Beginning from the panel on the left… we see that on the 3rd planet from the sun, a girl is formed from the love of two parents (lower panel with the two figures). As this girl formed (triangle panel with the white), she bent over backwards (the red figure bending backwards) to discover who she was in life (the face in the center panel). Unfortunately, as she began to develop and learn, she realized that her way of understanding was wrong (the upside down tree that blends water and earth together in the top left panels). The tears leaking from her face represent her struggle. But the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows represent her courage to push forward.

“Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?”: What every parent can do to help a struggling learner.

I often hear from parents about the frustrations they have regarding the amount of learning their children get when they go to school during the day, but I hear more of these concerns from parents of students who have some type of learning issue.  I use the word issue, because not all parents that approach me have a child with a learning disability, and some parents that approach me have children with physical or developmental disabilities.

Regardless of who these parents are or what issues their children face, the question is still the same, “Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?” The problem is that there could be a lot of reasons why a child is not learning. It is possible that it is the teacher, it could be the curriculum, it could be the student, and it could be a host of other things (combination of things).

I am not taking up for all schools and all teachers. This is not a “they are right/ you are wrong” situation. We have an educational problem in America. WE do! We can all see it; we are all effected by it.  We all want better for our children.

Since we know this is going to take time, we know our children cannot wait and we know that schools need our help, let’s figure out what we can do as parents to make this work for now.

Parents, you have the ability to help your child grow.  You are one of the best resources your child has. Here are a few things you can try:

(1)    For whatever reason, your child is struggling to learn, accept it. It is ok to feel what you feel.  But get those emotions to work for you.  Let them fuel you when you are tired at the end of the day and want to rest, or when you would rather flip on the TV instead of read a book with your child.  Find that anger and use it to your child’s benefit.

(2)    Sit down with your child and talk about what it means to be a good student. I’m not saying your child is a bad student. I’m saying to help your child to realize that their job is to go to school and give it their best. I’m not asking you to talk about grades. I’m asking you to teach your child how to ask questions, to seek more information, and how to participate. If your child is participating, giving it their best, and still hitting brick walls, remind them that this is not their fault and let them know you are going to help them as best as you can.

(3)    Get a notebook and start documenting.  What happens when your child sits down to read? Observe what happens when they write – get samples and save them.  Take time to look at what they are producing. What happens when your child does math or social studies? Gather as much information as you can, so you can become an expert on what your child does when your child is learning.  The fact is this, your child’s teacher may have 20 or 30 or even 40 children in the classroom – they may see a picture forming – but they are seeing only part of it – fill in the blanks for them so that they have a solid idea of who your child is or is not doing. Doing this might help you to figure out that one thing that will connect your child to what they learn in school.

(4)    Find out what your child is supposed to know for class and reinforce it.

  1. Help them to write about it, read about it, and find fun facts about it.  You can make up trivia and play games with it, with your children.
  2. Get exemplars (examples) of what the teacher needs to see your child do in order for your child to show they have the skill. Use those to guide your child to where they need to be.
  3. Have them make books with their own understanding of he information.
  4. Set reasonable expectations about what you can do and then do it.

My goal this weekend will be to have my sons create their own trivial pursuit game based on what they are learning in 7th and 9th grade. I promise to take a few snap shots and tell you how it’s going. 

(5)    Develop a relationship with your child’s school. Let them see your face and know your voice. You may not be able to participate in PTO, but that does not mean you can’t participate in other ways. If you only have time to drop in and provide an encouraging word to the teachers and staff – that is a much needed contribution that will go a long way to helping you have a solid relationship with the people who spend 8 hours a day with your child.  Your communication with the school will help you to find out about other resources that might help your child.

(6)    Celebrate the small things. Every time your child makes progress – GET LOUD! Show them some love.  Learning is hard work when you have to hurdle over barriers. Show your child you appreciate what they have achieved. Be careful not to bribe them – that could be disastrous.  Cheer like you are watching the big game or like you just saw a miracle right before your eyes. Just them see that it mattered to you.

(7)    Write your stories down. Our government needs to see what you see. They need to know what it is like for your children. They need you to share. They see numbers on lines and graphs and charts. Those numbers do not tell them anything about what you deal with every single day nor do they tell them what your child faces.  When you document your child learning, make copies and send it to the people who make the policy changes that impact your child and the people who support them.

(8)    Get to know your community of educators. Your school is not the only group you need to have a working relationship with. Learn about your local department of education, most have additional resources online or listed in the office. Make a phone call, ask questions, learn about events and attend them.

(9)    Network with other parents. Learn from one another.  You will be surprised the amazing things you can learn from people who are in your shoes.

I realize that this is not easy, but since we can’t change the system over night, it’s up to us to figure out how to help our children regardless.  If you have resources that you would like to share, please forward them and links to the pages if possible.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

How does Language Shape Identity?

If you have been following this blog, you know that I have been using the the fictional character Kelly to discuss learning disabilities.  This discussion continues as we start to look at how language shapes identity. Remember to go back through other posts if a new post is difficult to follow. 

As Kelly grew up, Barbara (her mother) taught her what it means to “understand”. However, their current disconnect implies that there is an internal process that is preventing Kelly from applying a specific and stable meaning to the word ‘understanding’ that would help her express her thoughts to her mother, in a way that helps her mother to fully comprehend what she is attempting to relate (Chomsky, 1988). According to Derrida (1977) the meaning of a sign is relative to its present (temporal) or historical (diachronic) foundation. He makes a very interesting turn when he acknowledges that, if the system or the history of the word has an alternate context, then the word and its meaning are different (Derrida, 1997). Did Kelly somehow stumble upon a new meaning for the term “understanding” or did Kelly never learn the word as Barbara had intended (Chomsky, 1988)?

Soja (1996) determined that “space”, in this case, the learner’s identity, is always a culturally-constructed entity that lies between the lived space, the perceived space and the conceived space (See Figure 1.2. Soja’s Learner Identity). In review of Kelly’s history her lived, perceived, and conceived location are as follows:

  • Lived Location: When Kelly uses the word ‘understanding’, she has a historical reference for the word, maybe her mother or her schoolteachers asked her to repeat a specific instruction over the years and followed those instructions with the sentence, “Do you understand?” (Derrida, 1997). This type of connection to the word would constitute her lived experience (Derrida, 1997). Kelly is living with and using the language as a way to fit into the society that is around her.
  • Perceived Location: Since the term ‘understanding’ can be hard to conceptualize for the next example, let us use the term ‘peanut’. Kelly has a current connection with the word “peanut” as it is used with other words, like “jelly”, “sandwich”, or “celery”, which would be her perceived experience with this term. Her perceived experience might also happen during a social circle at school where other kids might talk about what the word ‘peanut’ means to them. Kelly perceives how other students use language in the community she resides/lives with.
  • Conceived space: The third concept is more complicated. What Kelly is struggling to intellectualize to her mother is her conceived experience. Kelly is trying to convey to her mother that, while she does take in the information that she is taught about how to use the language; she then sees how others use and maintain that same information and that the differences between her and her peers has created the conception of herself that she is not successful.

Past research has documented that a struggle exists for the LD student and the question of “why” is still unresolved (Cooper, 2007; Cortilla, 2011; LDA, 2008; NCLB and Other Elementary/Secondary Policy Documents, 2008; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991). Chomsky (1988) called language a species problem (p.2). He labeled it a shared “biological endowment” that carried with it a system of knowledge that humans use to perceive information and produce responses (p. 2). This is a very generalized interpretation.

Kelly cannot access past information due to her learning-difference (LD), and struggles to pronounce the correct semantic interpretation that would aid her in her home and educational experiences, making it difficult for Kelly to become fully self-directed.  In a speech, Chomsky (2011) responds to the question, “What is special about language?” He acknowledges that only the prominent copy of the thought of a sentence is pronounced and that finding the correct semantic interpretation was often difficult (Chomsky, 2011). At some point later, he asked how a child might know the intended meaning if the child has nothing else to use for interpretation (Chomsky, 2011). What researchers must discover is how a person like Kelly compensates for not remembering what they have learned, and how to teach those compensations skills to other students with LD.

Discovering the properties of language and the ways those properties interact with learning is not as simplistic as it is written on paper or as easy as the theorists make it appear in their speeches (Chomsky, 1988). Derrida (1997) said that all perceptions, as outlined in Soja’s (1996) space theories, presuppose signs and language. He said that there is nothing outside the text, referring to “context”. He also said that we ascribe some form of meaning to something (like the word “peanut”) and we then attempt to communicate to others about the word (Derrida, 1997). He did not mean to say that there is no thought process outside of the word; he just means that we needed the word in that context to address the thing that was (in this case a peanut). Thus, when educators struggled to define the term “curriculum”, they began to outline how they plan to practice the various aspects of it instead (Oliva, 2006). Similarly, Kelly and her mother miscommunicated with one another, as the word “understanding” took on two different meanings.

Current practices are designed around one type of learner and one description of the social and cultural funtions required to train that specific learner to be both self-directed (Knowles, 1980) and ready to learn (Banks, 1993; Cortilla, 2011). Looking back, the hidden elements in the curriculum that have been established to reside in all curricula noted that students need connection and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Nelson et al., 2007). Gardner (1991) noted that we understand the world through our connection with our environment. Shaw (1990) outlined the link between spacial reasoning, behavior and the senses. Some researchers equated learning to social functions where learners built new ideas from past understanding (Vygotsky, 1978). Even Bloom’s taxonomy of education was a building block that required a foundation for advancement (Eisner, 2000).  What this means is that for the LD student to become successful in current educational settings, those students need to have their own culture brought into the curriculum in order to feel as if they belong and can ultimately be successful (complete to graduation) for them to desire to continue. They need to learn in a context they understand.

By combining education theory and Edward Soja’s Trialectical Relationship Model, it is clear that there is a relationship between the following groups: see Table 2.1, Spatial/ Perceived/ Conceived Location.

Table 2.1, Spacial/ Perceived/ Conceived Processes (Soja Model)

Triangle Corner Lived Location Perceived Location Conceived Location
A= Policy, Curriculum, and Teaching The College and its curriculum. US current Day What does this school desire to teach their students?
R= Students Students in an undergraduate program. US current Day What will the student know once (if) they complete their degrees plan?
T= Knowledge obtained at school Documents, books, lecture, notes Classroom or online Will the student keep this information or will it be forgotten?
Student (Kelly) Ready to Learn: I made it through high school, can I learn at this level? Self-Direction: Can I do this without continual help? Barriers: Failing, forgetting, and/ or misunderstanding.
  • The Author (or in this case the teacher or text writer).
  • The Reader (or student).
  • Text (the curriculum or College structure).

These individual relationships have differing impacts on mastery, connectedness, sustainability, engagement, and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Research also shows that:

  • if a student believes that they do not deserve to be in a college setting and that they do not think they are ready or able to learn,
  • that they will not be able to obtain anything from this setting and become self-directed learners, and if
  • they feel that they do not desire to remain in this setting (which is their greatest barrier), and then they will leave this setting (Cortiella, 2011, Soja, 1996).

Kelly’s feelings are further complicated by the fact that Kelly lacks any cultural, political, social, emotional, moral, ethical, ideological, or historic connection to what is being taught (Banks, 1993; Cortilla, 2011; Enfield, 2010; Jensen, 2005; Oliva, 2006; Opp, 1994). This means that Kelly does not see people like herself on the college campus. They do not experience learning in the same way. The curriculum is not designed in a way that is conducive for Kelly to slide easily into the educational process. The classroom is not automatically set up for Kelly and she must add to the environment to participate.

When the culture or background of the student is different then the understanding that is perpetuated in the curriculum (or by the teacher), the end result will be that the student understands something other than what the teacher is attempting to teach. See Figure 2.2. Social Connections to Texts and People (Levine, 2002). The smaller figure is telescoped into the larger one. This figure is included because it illustrates how people connect to what they read, write and learn.

Figure 2.2.Social Connections to Texts and People

Soja’s (1996) model is in the upper right corner (also Figure 2.2 Soja’s Learner Identity). The pyramid has been created to show how author, text, and reader bring their own individual cultures/ perceptions to what they read, write, speak and think. Those perceptions are subconsciously incorporated into the work of each person on the triangle. Unfortunately, this often leads to the inclusion of one culture and the exclusion of another.

In Figure 2.2., Social Connections to Texts and People, Soja’s Model (1996) is pointed out at the top of the pyramid, but it actually exists at each of the three triangle corners. Each corner represents the Author (Teacher/Text Writer), the Reader (Student) or the Text (Instruction/Curriculum). The center of the triangle shows the various sociocultural connections that each person in the triangle deals with on a daily basis. These sociocultural connections can be economical, ideological, social, cultural, political, physical, emotional, moral, ethical, historical or gendered. The figure outlines the dynamic between the individual perception of Students, Teachers and Text to the sociocultural environment that is internal to the individual and/or artificially created in the classroom.

 

Full Text Citation:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

H.Res. 456: “Calling on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications”

This weekend I took the time to begin discussing disability advocacy.  What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we address it?

It was my pleasure to discover that Congressman Bill Cassidy and Congresswoman Julia Brownley have written a resolution calling for the House to acknowledge that impact of dyslexia on students. Decoding Dyslexia- Co said that Congressman Cassidy said that

“the resolution is designed to urge schools and educational institutions to address the impact of (dyslexia) on students”  

In another quote posted by Decoding Dyslexia – CO, Congressman Cassidy says:

“Dyslexia affects millions of Americans, including many students. We know that many with dyslexia are among our brightest and most successful. If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs. This resolution pushes schools and educational agencies to address this challenge and provide evidence-based solutions for dyslexic students.”

This bill currently only has a 2% chance of passing, but this is low because people do not know about it.  It is up to us as citizens and especially those of us who deal with the impact of dyslexia to encourage our Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucasus.

Why is this important?

According to Dyslexia World:

A person suffering from dyslexia disorder experiences difficulty reading, writing, with letters, words, and numbers, as well as reversing letters and words. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the children suffer from Dyslexia.”

But from personal experience, I understand that dyslexia is a life-long condition. It has taken me years to learn to learn and to teach my children to learn.  My hope, my call to my elected officials and to the rest of the United States is that you do not allow another student to struggle as hard as I did – as my children have/are.

If I could sit down with these men and women today – I would walk them through what it felt like to copy a text book cover to cover, to read – reread and reread information hoping to make it stick, to feel what it is like to confuse what is written and what is said – to have the thoughts get stuck, to feel stupid when you know your not and to wonder where on earth the information went that you spent so much time trying to remember.

If I could share a lunch with them, I would ask, if they understood that I have no desire to take something from another student in my quest to give students the same opportunity to learn.

I ask you now to reach out and write letters and ask your Congressmen and Congresswomen to stand up for these children and adults.

I will be posting this letter on all of my social media outlets and I ask you to consider posting it too.  Better yet, write your own and share it.  My voice is not the only voice that needs to be heard.

Special Thanks to:

Decoding Dyslexia – CO (https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaCo)

Congressman Bill Cassidy (https://www.facebook.com/billcassidy)

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (https://www.facebook.com/RepJuliaBrownley)

May we continue the effort to build awareness!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

A Pause to Discuss Disability Advocacy

You would think that as a woman and as an “African-American” (we are all Americans so I hate the additional identifiers – I simply find it is necessary to discuss this point), I would understand more about the idea of Civil Rights. After all, these two groups alone have faced the sting of discrimination and injustice since the birth of America. But I, like many Americans grew complacent about Civil Rights. We had some laws passed, a few people got some jobs, there were options out there that we did not have before.  And to be quite honest, I sometimes found myself very frustrated by those people who seemed “bitter/angry” all the time. You know that person who could not have a single lunch without bringing up this cause or that cause. It was overwhelming for me.

I could never quite understand why that was. Why would someone speaking out etch through me like glass?  This week (I’m now 42 years old), and only this week did it dawn on me!  My entire life I was told to stop complaining. To learn to accept “something”, to be happy with what I had. We were poor, after all. We had to learn to be grateful. We had shoes and some kids did not. We had food some kids did not. We had a home and other children lived on the streets or in shelters. I might have still felt hungry, but I had something – so stop complaining.

Were those things valid concerns, yes, but since my grandmother had no power to make any changes to our lives, she had to teach us to deal with it, to find happiness and to not focus solely on what was not there. There is value in that philosophy and I don’t want anyone reading this post to think that I find shame in that. The shame is not being poor and not having something. The shame is being made to believe that you do not deserve better. It was not my grandmother who taught me that – it was society, teachers, people who said things like “You can’t learn”, “You are stupid”, “You should not try for better because you are not going to get it.” That shaped me in such a deep way that  I presumed that saying it, claiming it and asking for help was complaining.

I remember always making excuses for others, when I would say something, write something, or have difficulty getting the words out. Often those excuses where demeaning to me. I could not articulate what I felt and so I found that the easiest way to cope was to do my best to blend in and pretend like nothing was wrong.

I chuckled when people I loved called me “weird” even though it hurt me inside to hear it. I tried to let it go when I heard words like, “off in her own world” or when people would whistle and spin their fingers in a circle around their temples. Everyone has to learn to laugh at themselves (I would justify) – I should have a bit a of humor about myself, so that I can learn how to blend in with the world around me.

But there were some underlying differences that no one was really looking at. I WAS NOT just like every body else. Everyone else was walking into a public school and making the choice to learn or not learn. I was walking in knowing that nothing I did that day was going to stick. Everyone else had the option to go to the library and grab information and use it to better themselves. I walked into that same library knowing that I was going to loose much of what I read.  When our student body graduated from high school most of the students (even if they were scared) had memory of the information they had learned in school – had recall of the faces of people they had met. I left school with no recall of anything that took place in the classroom and limited to no memory of the faces of the students or teachers I had met there. There was a difference – there was a problem – there was something missing.

No one was going to be able to speak that space but me. Everyone else around me thought (because I had pretended) that we had the same access to the same things because it was a free American right. They had no idea that due to my learning issues I was not able to access that free “Right”.

I also remember the attitude people got when at the mere mentioned the term “accommodation”. It would cause an immediate anger. So many people felt like something was being taken away from them because another person dared to say something as simple as, “I need assistance with this/that.”  The problem is that it is very difficult to understand when you have never lived it. To live a life free of the need of accommodation is something I will never experience. That does not mean that all people who do are bad or unfeeling, it only means they are different. I just don’t know anyone totally free of some type of accommodations. Every short person needs a stool. Most tall people need special clothing. Children need special caps placed on medication. I see accommodation everywhere I turn – why do we make it into a four letter word?

The need for accommodation is further complicated by something else. The misunderstanding that disabilities are something new that people are coming up with so they don’t have to work or so that they can get something from the government for free or so that they can get special treatment.

I try to address those things systematically. Disabilities have always been apart of the living experience. Unfortunately, for those with physical disabilities the consequence of having the disability was often a death sentence, this was no different then what happened to the elderly who by nature of becoming older became disabled. For those with intellectual or cognitive disabilities this meant being shut in institutions or “sheltered” by families who were embarrassed. Or it meant that you would have needed to be exceptional or ridiculed your entire life by society – a hero or a misfit.  But no matter what, this left a great deal of “healthy” non-disabled individuals to build an entire society without your input and for your “benefit”, unaware of your needs because you were too “crippled” or too “ignorant” to contribute.

I was on a discussion board this week.  We were discussing what people in the “disability community” needed to do in order to start truly advocating for themselves. In the discussion some brought up that people who have disability need to do many things, like speak up for themselves, participate in boards, write letters, inform/educate our greater community, talk to legislators, etc. I then remember this gentleman saying that we did not need to be on boards, not even the boards of programs that were designed to help our community.  He could not understand why this would be of any value to help with any form of change.

This person was not being mean, but this person did not understand  a very basic concept. That concept is that sometimes the thing done to help can cause the most hurt. For that reason I shared a story that was far more intimate. It was my hope that this story would help shed a little light on why people with disabilities are hurt when we are not apart of our own solutions. The example is not disability related, but it is just as valid, which is why I share it now.

A few years back I had an emergency hysterectomy. I checked in on the ground floor and woke up in maternity. I can’t tell you how hard it was to wake up to hear children crying knowing about my own loss. When I asked why they keep women in my situation on this floor, I was told it was easier on the doctors. It had been determined by a vote of a hospital board. If just one of those board members had understood the patient’s side they might have realized the trauma of this choice. Sadly the board that made the choice that impacted me had no idea of the ramifications this choice would have on me psychologically speaking. They only knew that they had done what they could to help me. I will never be angry that they helped me. That does not change what happened to me after. Had one person been there to explain that placing women on this floor was a horrible idea – maybe that would have had an impact – I will never know – but it will never change if women remain silent about that kind of issue.

Many people do not realize how the things they think of as normal are damaging to someone with a disability.  Take for instance, the buses in my state are now equipped with a wheelchair lift so people in wheelchairs can get on the bus. I was at a meeting with a group of people who are in wheelchairs. On this day it was snowing. I was upset because I had difficulty with my directions, but the snow on the street had been shoveled. I had to drive up one street and down another and when I finally parked I had a puddle in front of me and I could easily jump over it to get to a dryer piece of land. One of the lady’s in a chair then explained that due to the snow the bus driver put her out closer to the highway, so she had to navigate in her chair in the street because the snow had been shoveled so high to one side that her access to the sidewalk had been cut off.  This forced her to go way out of her way to get to the building we were meeting at.

Had I not heard her side, I would not have been able to understand how difficult it was for her. We should have both had access to the street and the sidewalk – we both pay the taxes that make the side walk available for all people, but the city was considering the non-disabled walkers and drivers on that day – they had forgotten about everyone else. I am not just talking about people in chairs, I am also thinking about children, the elderly, and those who have some kind of ailment. All of these people who had to get off a bus and find a new path through the streets, and had to be placed in a dangerous situation. That is unacceptable.

The same way we pay taxes for public transportation and clean sidewalks near bus stops and city buildings, is the same way we all pay taxes to be educated, but most people with learning and other disabilities pay far more because the educational system is created based on building success in students who do not have learning/cognitive disabilities. These additional costs come in the form of extra tutoring, additional supplies, special equipment, etc. Things I have often heard people without out disabilities refer to as “options”.  Not a bad word, but it can be so degrading when used by some. If I cannot be educated without it – it is not an option. If I took all the pencils and paper out of the school and refused to allow students to have the lights on – I would be denying them access – that is no different then the accommodations needed for someone with a disability. I cannot learn if I cannot see, I cannot learn if I cannot get my wheelchair into the room, I cannot learn if I cannot hear, and I cannot learn if the curriculum has shut me out.

A Civil Right is a right we as a people have determined that all of us can have. It is a set of agreements that we hold to that state that we all deserve to have the same things, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What we forget is that there are some who are unable to participate. We don’t understand that, based on how we have designed our America, we have shut them out.

There are a plethora of issues that the disability community will have to face. We will have to tackle accessibility on all levels, education, homelessness, age issues, housing, insurance, poverty (we are the poorest minority group in America: http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-239.pdf) and the stigma that society holds of us as a disabled community.

The fight for disability rights is not a fight to take something from other Americans, but a demand to have exactly what you already have. We don’t hate people without disabilities, we don’t want to see them suffer and we don’t blame them for the limitations that we deal with every day. We want the same things you want. We want to learn, to have jobs, to ride buses, to enjoy the parks. We want to get work, support our families, help our government, and live the best life we can.  We press because we have been excluded, we press because things are not equal.

One day this will not be necessary – until then we will continue to fight. This is no different then the challenge I take on as an African-American or as a Woman – we have come so far, but we are still so far away.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond