Inclusion for All: Fact or Fantasy?

The following guest blog comes from Megan Clodi, a special education teacher at Mt. Vernon Township High School in Illinois. Mrs. Clodi is also the Director of Special Olympics programming at her school. 

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and get ready to imagine a scenario. The scene begins with a gymnasium built in the 1930’s filled to the brim with rich high school basketball tradition overflowing with stories of championships won, hall of famers inducted, and decades of sweat and tears from losses and wins. Now listen to the thud on the caramel wooden floor of the cheerleaders landing their tumbling stunts. The drum line thunders their tune and the band strikes up a fight song. Every seat in Changnon Gymnasium is filled with students and teachers. When will the game begin? No Varsity Basketball game will be played right now at 9am on this brisk Friday morning. Instead, this is the scene at the Mt. Vernon Township High School school-wide assembly.

This assembly is unique because it is a RALLY . . . a rally to Spread the Word to End the Word! Mt. Vernon Township High School is a culturally diverse school located in the heart of Southern Illinois and comprised of roughly 1,300 students from 13 feeder schools. The campus sprawls 11 buildings on two full city blocks. Three times a year students come together for assemblies to celebrate student involvement and success in sports and in other extra-curricular activities. This particular assembly is similar but has a unique feature, one of which . . . SILENCE. Never before has the entire student body quieted themselves during an assembly.

A parent stands at the podium and explains how ALL of her children are competitive and participate in a wide array of activities . . . including her daughter, who has an intellectual disability. She shares how her other children feel and react when their friends use the R-word (retarded) in haphazard and derogatory ways. Subsequently, the School Resource Officer describes the Polar Plunge fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics and why he supports the athletes. Two students gather their guitars and play their original acoustic song that won first place in the Mt. Vernon’s Got Talent competition to benefit Special Olympics. Next, the student Editor of the Vernois Yearbook takes the microphone to issue a call to action for his classmates to stop using the r-word. A tall-framed woman with a familiar face steps to the microphone. This face is aired into homes during the sports segment on the local news. During her speech, she details that over her years of experience competing in sports and reporting sporting events, the athletes that have emblazoned a lasting impression on her heart is the MVTHS Special Olympics athletes. Lastly, a Special Olympics athlete bravely stands before his classmates and honestly opens up as he tells everyone that over the years he has been called retarded and routinely been made fun of. His feelings and raw emotion is bared for all to hear the pain he endured. At the end, he implores his classmates and all adults present to use helpful words instead of hurtful words . . . achingly to STOP using the R-word. Never has silence been so loud.

The SILENCE hangs thickly in the air until the basketball theme-music, “Put it on the Line”, plays over the sound-system as the team gathers in the lobby. The excitement builds and every single person jumps to their feet to clap. The starting line-up is announced and the team takes the floor. Which team? The first-ever MVTHS Special Olympics Basketball Team takes the floor and basks in the delight of the standing ovation. The team sets up on the floor and the ball is tossed into the air for the starting tip-off!

Now open your eyes.

Time to decide . . . is this fact or fantasy? How about at your school?

If it can be a reality at Mt. Vernon Township High School, it can be reality at your school, too!

Advertisements

The Road to Respect

Recycle, race, respect, rejoice, relax, reject…

The list of “r-words” could go on forever, but in the eyes of any person associated with Special Olympics, there is one “r-word” that is not quite like the rest. This R-word alone has the power to take someone from happy to sad in a matter of seconds, the power to hurt, discriminate and stereotype. This R-word has the power to change lives.

This R-word is the word “retard/retarded.”

To a lot of people, March 7, 2012 felt like a normal Wednesday, but anyone in the Special Olympics family knows it was so much more than just a normal day. It was a day to promote acceptance, inclusion and respect for individuals with intellectual disabilities and spread awareness about everything our Special Olympics athletes can achieve in this world.

It was the Spread the Word to End the Word day!

The “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign was started in 2009 by two youth, and is now celebrated across the world. Starting as a campaign to eliminate the use of the R-word, the campaign has grown into so much more, and is changing the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

I have hosted and observed campaigns for the last three years. Over those three years, the campaign and the responses towards our efforts have changed so much!

The first year the campaign was done, it is safe to say that there was a lot of resistance. Many people argued that it was their “freedom of speech” to use any word that they wanted, and that they weren’t directing it at those with disabilities. The second year gained more attention and positive responses, but this year was the most amazing year yet! This year, we made a huge leap towards social acceptance for all. Although I only got to attend two R-word campaigns this year, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign was everywhere!

When I logged onto my Facebook on Wednesday, the amount of videos, blogs, stories, and posts about the campaign was amazing! I was receiving blast emails and texts all day, but things people were saying about the campaign wasn’t what was had been said in the past; they were no longer the normal “do not use the r-word,” but rather “individuals with intellectual disabilities are just like you and me. They deserve the same respect that everyone else does, so please think before you speak.”

When we ask people to sign the pledge to stop using the R-word, we aren’t simply asking people to not use a word, we are asking people to change their mind-sets. We are asking them to accept differences, embrace those with disabilities, and unite in a world of social acceptance.

This year, the real meaning behind the campaign was finally understood. With over 286,000 pledges so far, this campaign has come a long way, but still has a long way to go. The road to respect might not be an easy road, but with all of the amazing strength from the athletes, support from their families, and guidance from volunteers, as a family of Special Olympics, we WILL make it there!