Arlene is on the SCENE

Disability History in the Classroom

Posted on: September 27, 2012

There is a movement afoot to make disability rights and disability history part of the standard curriculum. I just came across an e-petition that is making its way around the United Kingdom. California recently passed the Fair Education Act which requires the history curriculum to include contributions made by people with disabilities. As with other minority groups who are sometimes misunderstood and mistreated by the majority, teaching everyone about the history of all groups will only enhance understanding and respect.

And Marybeth and I were thinking the same thing! As you’ve read in previous posts, we’re currently editing the sequel to Arlene On the Scene. It should be available next spring (we’ll keep you posted!). One of the things we wanted to include in this book is a taste of disability rights history, so that students will be encouraged to research this topic and learn more.

Check out the sneak peek from Arlene, Rebel Queen below! (It’s unedited; please excuse any mistakes!)

Here’s the background: Arlene and her classmates were assigned a project in which they had to research a law that changed our country. Arlene read about the Americans With Disabilities Act. Of course, for her report, she did things a little differently. You know how Arlene loves to rap…

But first, after lunch, it was time for Jessie and me to do our presentation thing.  And my thing is poetry.

I smiled at the class, then went right into it.  By the end, they were all clapping out a beat for me!

“Let me tell you ‘bout a girl named Jennifer Keelan

You know she can’t walk, she got around by wheelin’

She made the prez and politicians feel a funny feelin’

When they watched her climb a hundred steps, all while kneelin’

At the top she gave a paper to some pol-i-ticians

Saying we got rights in spite of a disease or condition

Her picture made the papers, but in the late edition

And she forced the president to make a quick decision

Before the ADA was passed, it was a-okay

To treat disabled folks like they should just be locked away

But now malls, halls, clubs, buses, and cafes

Have to open up the doors that once blocked our way.

The words ‘We the People’ aren’t a mystery

We have rights, freedom and of course, liberty.

By making civil rights include disability

The ADA marked its rightful place in history.”



3 Responses to "Disability History in the Classroom"

I love the idea to include the Independent Living Movement in schools. It was a revelation for me- that I didn’t have to work so hard to “fit in”. Maybe there was a middle ground where the world could better “fit me”.

I also love the rap and I know it’s hard, but any chance it can be People with Disabilities instead of disabled people? Not a giant thing, but something to think about. I know it’s personal preference and many people aren’t bothered at all. I wrote my thoughts early in my journey here:

I am excited to see the sequel to Arlene! So fun! Best wishes! 🙂

Thanks for your comment and your feedback on the poem. Language is huge, and your post really hits home on this issue. I saw another good discussion at As you say, individuals have different preferences so it’s sometimes hard to know what the right words are. I think this can result in an avoidance of talking about the issues because we don’t want to offend anyone. As I write these books and visit schools, talking about about disability and about Charcot-Marie-Tooth, which I don’t have, I do sometimes feel that hesitancy, and even fear–what if I say something wrong? This is where the chasm begins.

But that’s the essence of what we’re trying to talk to kids about. Face your fears! Ask questions, get to know people, let them tell you about themselves, and then really listen. If there’s an open, nonjudgmental dialogue going on, you won’t offend anyone. You’ll feel it when you’re truly understanding each other, and they’ll let you know when you missed the mark. And making that mistake actually deepens understanding in the end, so it’s not totally a bad thing.

All to say, thank you for the feedback! Marybeth and I will work through this poem again, see if we can’t make the rhythm work!

[…] discussion of empathy, self-image, and the power of activism. Through these conversations, and an amazing video of eight year old Jennifer Keelan climbing the steps of the US Capitol, we learned that one […]

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