how to devalue a child in three easy steps

One of the local service clubs is raising money for a Hart Walker for a young girl from the region.  They approached the school for support which was duly offered – it was for a good cause.

But how does the equipment need of one child outweigh basic respect for another?

When the service club members came to speak at assembly about why they were raising money I know they meant well.   But, is it fair to stand in front of the entire school, when one student is sitting in a wheelchair in the front row, and  tell them “how TERRIBLE life would be to be in a wheelchair.  Can they IMAGINE how AWFUL it would be?”

Why is it OK to devalue any child in front of their peers.  Why is it OK for his method of mobility to be touted as ‘terrible’.

I have written a letter to the service club suggesting some alternative ways to approach talks like this.  I am yet to send it as I was waiting to see if my feelings on this matter changed/dissipated/diminshed.  I wanted to see if I was still as disappointed as I was on the day… I am, and as such, I will be posting the letter.

I raised it with the school but don’t feel they truly understood what the issue was – as always people get very defensive if you dare to suggest “well meaning fundraising people” are anything other than saints.   I decided not to pursue it, rather I will use it as an education opportunity with the service providers.

So, back to the title… just how do you devalue a child in three easy steps:

  1. As a school you don’t act pro-actively  by reminding speakers coming to speak, particularly on disability issues, that at all times respectful, people first language should be used.
  2. As a service club you get so caught up in the process for one child you forget to think more broadly,  you take one child’s story as fact.  The family in their request for assistance may very well have told the service club this little girls life IS TERRIBLE, but that is her life, not that of every wheelchair user.
  3. As a parent you leave a little boy sitting in assembly with all his peers while they are being told that his type of life is AWFUL and TERRIBLE and you don’t remove him from that environment because it would/could appear rude.

We all failed Mac on this occasion.

Sorry Macco.  I promise we will do better!


Filed under How did we get here?

6 responses to “how to devalue a child in three easy steps

  1. Actually, what is terrible is to not have access to a wheelchair. What is awful is the way people respond to people using a wheelchair. Without the chair our kids are stuck – that is terrible. They are not “wheelchair bound” or any of these things. Without the stupid judgemnetal comments, imagine how much less awful our children’s lives would be. I hope Mac’s classmates have learned a lesson – that adults, whoever well meaning, are not always right. They KNOW Mac.

  2. That sucks. I’ve been to a service club night where they were donating (a couple of years ago) a tiny amount of money towards a wheelchair for Moo. I left with similar feeling though we were lucky, Moo wasn’t there for the dinner. I had a completely horrible experience on that night talking to a woman who runs riding with the disabled, and I have never taken Moo there because of the similar attitude that she showed that night.

    I hope you send the letter. Their actions are shameful and I’m glad I wasn’t there.

  3. You gotta send that letter Gina cos you are dead right!!


  4. Di

    I think you should send that letter, Gina, and I bet you found it very hard to hold your tongue during the assembly. But, well done for you for holding your tongue, I can imagine how messy it may have gotten if you hadn’t. Everyone is an individual, unique in their own right, and I think the Club spokeperson should go away from this, and regret their generalisation of anyone who needs a wheelchair, that their life is awful and terrible.

  5. Gina

    Di, while I pretty much held my tongue, I left during the talk visibly upset and told the aide “I couldn’t do it” and walked away. I was shocked and upset by it all. I felt awful leaving Mac in that position, but I believe even me walking out upset was cause for a parent to make a complaint about me being ‘rude’, ha, lucky I didn’t make the type of scene I should have. I find it hard to balance taking the ‘softly softly approach’ , not offending people and trying to gently bring them along for the ride, and deciding when it is appropriate for people’s sensibilities to be offended. I guess I’ll keep muddling along, making some poor judgements and some good ones – just like everyone else.

  6. Liz

    For what it’s worth Gina – it’s worth a lot! – I hope you send the letter. Maybe cc one to the school too, just so they know?

    I know how hard it is to keep smiling when your insides are screaming NOOOO! Like when Princess’ school principal refers to “these people” when he means to say “kids who use wheelchairs”. I’ve managed to stop the Learning Support teacher referring to her as a “CP girl”(accompanied by pitying smile and tilt of head).

    You are right – it’s about respect. It’s horrible to feel bad for failing our kids, but would be worse if we didn’t learn from it/change things!

    And I’m sure Mac’s already forgiven you : )

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