Dear you, the boy in the news article, who is being praised for taking a girl with a disability to prom,
I am choosing to believe that your intentions were of the purest sort. That you did this, out of the kindness of your heart, not because of the potential news coverage. I want you to know, that I am not writing because I am unhappy with what you did.
I am writing because I don't think it is right that a newspaper covered this. I don't think it is right that something like this, such kindness towards people with disabilities, should be portrayed as a miracle, as something out of the ordinary, as if you are a hero.
Maybe to that girl, you are. Maybe this is something she will remember for the rest of her life. BUT maybe the newspaper didn't need to write about it. Maybe someday, kindness will not be something seen as heroism, but the norm. Maybe including people with disabilities will someday, not be something seen as heroism, but the norm.
My sister, Karlee, has Down Syndrome and she has spent her whole life longing to fit in. She does not want to be treated as different, as someone who needs saving. She wants to be treated as someone worthy enough of a prom date. She wants to be treated as someone worthy enough of a paid job. She wants to be treated as someone worthy of being included in her community without the newspapers writing about it's novelty. And that is all I have ever wanted for her.
I have chosen to devote my career to this. I work every day to help people with disabilities integrate into their communities, to have meaningful experiences that benefit themselves as well as everyone else, to be independent, successful members of society. I work every day towards a world where someone with a disability going to prom or getting a paid job isn't deemed as newsworthy, but is something that is expected.
During Autism Awareness month, I saw a Facebook post saying we should not be focusing on "Awareness," but rather on "Acceptance." The newspaper article about you, served as the awareness piece. Yes, there are people in our communities with disabilities, but we have all known this. This, is not newsworthy. The fact that they are wanting to join their peers in age-appropriate acitivites is not newsworthy.
Instead, we should be educating. We should be teaching people about inclusion and acceptance, that a label of a disability does not mean pity. It just means they might do things, hear things, see things, differently. We should be teaching people to accept and accommodate people with disabilities.
Maybe someday we will celebrate Autism Acceptance Month or Down Syndrome Acceptance Month or Disability Acceptance Month, but maybe someday we won't have to. Maybe someday people will be able to live their lives without the newspaper covering the story of someone's kindness towards them.
Thank you for your kindness, but your story has shown me that we have a lot more work to do.
A sister, a teacher, a friend, a concerned citizen