Accessibility, Advocacy, Canada, Cerebral Palsy, Education, Inclusion, Love, Notable Links, Our Daughter, Our Son, Parenthood, Photos, Rights:Human, Sebastian at School, Sibling Love, Toronto, Transportation

‘I could meet him there.’

I’ve started going through my drafts and finishing them. You know those moments when there is something on your mind and you want to get it out into the world and then you run out of steam and you don’t. Those thoughts tend to get buried beneath the newer ones. But here we are nearing the end of a very rainy March Break and well, these thoughts still rise within me so here I am, finally finishing them.

Sometime in January, I started with this…

There’s a March Break camp for kids ages 3.5-8 at a local kids programming centre. My kids both fit into that age bracket. But they can’t both attend the program. There are stairs leading into the centre. There isn’t support staff for kids with disabilities. The program only caters to able bodied kids. Is it being exclusive? Or is it following programs all over the city that are created with the status quo in mind? Certainly it’s not following the example of the school board. Or is it?

There are only 8 elementary schools in all of Toronto that have programs to support kids with physical disabilities. There are over 595 schools across the TDSB. I’ve also been looking into alternative school programs. The ones with wait-lists and lotteries. The ones that have holistic learning, learning time outside (Waldorf inspired), social justice and environmental curriculums. The ones with philosophies on their websites that include everyone. Everything except kids in wheelchairs. ‘I’m sorry, our school is not accessible. I wish you the best of luck in your search.’ Even with the AODA Accessible Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act, there is no plan to make schools in Toronto fully accessible for children using wheelchairs. Many of these alternative, optional attendance programs are on the third floor of buildings. I find it ironic that their philosophies clearly state, ‘equal education for all’, when they’ve left out a part of the population entirely.

It’s frustrating. Stressful. Heartbreaking. For me. I woke at the beginning of the week with a pinched nerve in my neck. My chiropractor asked if I had been unusually stressed recently. Unusually? Not sure about that, but excessively? Oh yes, the past couple of weeks have been hard.

…and tonight I’m finishing it.

I asked Tallula if she would like to go to a school where both she and Sebastian could attend together. She said yes. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a school where you could both play on the playground at the same time?’ She replied, ‘I could meet him there.’ She looked up and me and smiled and I squeezed her hand as we crossed the road from her play school to the car. Later that day I asked Sebastian the same question. I was a little afraid to ask him because I wasn’t sure what answer I would get. He has a good group of friends at his school and I wasn’t sure he would want to leave them for a new school. But when I asked him if he would like to go to the same school as his sister, even if it meant leaving his current school and making new friends, his answer was yes. He is a social guy. He likes making new friends. He is also tired of riding the bus. It was novel at first…last year. Now, the bus driver changes often and while he usually likes his bus driver, he’s told me he no longer likes riding the bus. And why would he when he has to get on just after 8am for a 9am start and isn’t home until almost 4pm every day. An hour each way for a 20 minute drive because the bus is full of kids that don’t all live in the same neighbourhood.

I pick Sebastian up twice a week and drop him off some days too. I try to give him a break from the long days. When I’m driving to and fro I wish life was different. I was I could walk my kids across the street to our neighbourhood school. I wish that people thought it was important to have diverse classrooms. Instead I walked by the other school in our neighbourhood this week (on the one afternoon it stopped raining) and a boy stopped playing and pointed at Sebastian and shouted ‘It’s a boy.’ Pointed at him. And shouted. ‘Yeah, you are right, he is a boy, just like you.’ I replied. And then, ‘You know it’s not nice to point, right?’ And he stared. And Tallula walked up next to Sebastian and placed her hand on the arm of his chair. Creating a barrier between him and the boy. And we walked on.

I want my kids to go to the same school so I’m not sending one on a bus for an hour and walking the other to the school across the street. I want my kids to go to the same school so that the other programs in the neighbourhood will recognize that there are kids of all abilities in their neighbourhood and, hey, why not get StopGap to make us a ramp so we can begin to include them. I want my kids to go to the same school so that we can be in a community that will embrace them together. Instead of pointing at them and singling them out for being different. I want my kids to go to the same school because they deserve to be in a place that provides equal education for all. We are in a school board that says kids will be put in the most inclusive environment possible but they don’t make it possible to do so. I want my kids to go to the same school, because why wouldn’t I?