I don’t write much about my job, but there is something I want to address briefly. That is the question of teachers with disabilities that would qualify them for special education services if they were still K-12 students. Many teachers that I have met seem to believe, even though they may be special education teachers trained in the diversity and complexity of disability, that there are no such teachers, except perhaps for those disabled by injury or age. This means that the phenomenon of being talked about as though you are not there (because you’re not visible to the conversing group as part of the target group) happens a lot. I hear a good deal about autism, much of which is incorrect, offensive or oversimplified. I had a teacher tell me once that she would never want to take autism home with her or have it in her house. I also hear a lot of scaremongering, fear and cruelty about mental illness. And a lot of dismissiveness about the capabilities of students with intellectual disabilities, or who are non-verbal. It’s really frustrating and disheartening.
A lot of days I go to work and leave thinking, “Nothing about us without us.” Although this statement is usually applied to media representation, I think it is very appropriate in education! Educators (of all categories) are often unaware of what actual disabled people think about their disabilities, what we want or need. Our voices are discounted or simply not even thought of.
I went through school as a gifted student and an unidentified autistic. I heard a lot about how smart I was, and now I hear a lot about how frustrating I apparently was. I hear a lot about how gifted kids are a pain in the ass because they’re knowitalls or underachievers. I hear a lot of gross, blanket statements about autistics. It hurts to know that this is how educators see students like I was and adults who are like me! I don’t keep my disabilities or exceptionality a secret, per se, but I don’t talk about them much (aside from answering questions about my physical disability, since I sometimes miss work or show up with new mobility aids) because I don’t talk that much about my personal life. No one at work really knows much of significance about me, except that I am engaged and I have dogs. Also that I’m kind of a nerd, since I am easily able to keep pace with student conversations about various Marvel and DC characters and events. I’m not keen on that changing, since I think perceptions of me (and thus treatment of me) would change if people knew. That’s not surprising, necessarily, but it is really disappointing.
It’s not just the people I work with now, either. I have encountered this bias and ignorance in a lot of schools. I don’t know if people aren’t trained very well regarding disability, if they’re genuinely ill-willed or if they’re just indifferent toward how their language and behavior are interpreted. I’m not sure if it matters why people act this way, only that they do. I wish that it would change, and I hope to be a force to change it as I enter a new role in the field.