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'The Best Advocate I Have Is Me'

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This is one of seven commentaries on the topic of inclusion from "To the Best of Their Abilities".

Although I am blind, I spend my days in a regular classroom. For me, learning in a mainstream classroom has been a challenge. I have tried to demonstrate to "regular" educators that educating students with disabilities can be challenging and rewarding.

Integrating students with disabilities into the vast ocean of the mainstream society is often perceived as being complicated. I have fought the stereotype that I would be an "overly dependent" student. I strongly believe that confusing disabilities and capabilities leads to negative perceptions about students with disabilities. I have a disability, but I am capable.

I don't live in an isolated society; I shouldn't learn in an isolated classroom. In terms of educating students with disabilities, it's time to stop blaming the budget. "It's not in the budget, so we can't provide it." When I go into the regular workforce, I will be required to complete the same tasks as every other worker. I have never asked for an extension for any school project. I'm not giving you excuses, so you shouldn't give me excuses.

For disabled students to receive the quality education we deserve, we must be fiercely determined to succeed, and we must fight negative stereotypes. Most important, though, we must have educators and parents who are willing to work together. My parents' involvement has played a major role in insuring that I receive a quality education. Success in school doesn't only happen at school; it starts at home.

My parents had to be involved to insure that I would receive a proper education. And I learned from that example. I learned that the best advocate I have is me; I have to express my own needs. All students have to be aggressive; they have to be articulate. That's especially true for disabled students.

Technology has been essential to my success; I work with computers and other learning tools. If teachers are creative, they won't view "technology" as just a machine; it is another avenue to deliver special services in a regular classroom. But technology also encourages creativity and innovation in the classroom. (My fellow students also benefit from this innovation.) For example, in physics and health classes, my teachers constructed models of the human body so that I could learn by touch while my peers were learning visually. So although the model was for me, all of us learned from it.

Those teachers were already creative and were willing to make some improvisations. Teachers must try to give the disabled student the same quality education that they would give a regular student. This is more of a challenge than a dilemma; everyone in the entire spectrum has to be creative, cooperative, innovative.

Other students benefit from the insight that I have. You've heard the expression, "When you lose one sense, you gain another." I guess that's true. In English class, I try to take a work of literature and translate that into what is happening now, take the work and expand its point of view. I can sometimes perceive things that other students miss.

For "regular" teachers to be receptive to teaching students with disabilities, they must talk to parents and previous instructors to transform any "fear" into a willingness to see the disabled student succeed. Believing is achieving, and achieving is believing. Despite my disability, you want me to succeed--teachers and administrators need to let me feel that. Educating a blind student and a sighted student--what's the difference? They still have to impart the knowledge to the students.

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