By Tim Kahn (ChildForum's London Correspondent)
This article is written from a UK perspective. Some terminology may not be commonplace in New Zealand but should still be apparent from the context.
Disabled, but not really so different
When our daughter, Sarah, was very young, we used to visit our friend Micheline who uses a wheelchair. Her daughter, Lucy, who is just older than Sarah, could not walk and Sarah used to – intuitively – get down on her hands and knees and crawl around with Lucy. Fast forward a few years to a time when they were both in their respective primary schools; when we visited Micheline, a special treat for Sarah was to stand on the platform at the back of Lucy’s electric wheelchair as the two of them whizzed to the local shops.
Fortunately Micheline is a committed fighter for inclusion, which not only meant that Lucy got to stay in mainstream provision right until school-leaving age (rather than going to a segregated school for disabled children – this was still radical in the 1980s when Lucy was growing up) but also that all her friends lived in the local community. And, as an offshoot, all those friends got the opportunity to learn that some children and adults have an impairment and that’s just part of life.
Now, I would say this is not the everyday kind of learning that children pick up at school. It’s not on the school curriculum – but what Sarah learned from being friends with Lucy was the profound lesson that we may be different in abilities or appearance, but we are the same underneath in that we are all human. Not literacy or numeracy, but certainly as important, if not more so.
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