It had taken some courage to sign our daughter up for a toddler gymnastics class in our community. The class required parent participation and with the bouncy floor and various obstacles, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. My husband and I had seen the room, considered where and how we could move about in our wheelchairs and on the floor. We decided that we could do it and more importantly-that Hannah would love it.
After a few sessions, we’d figured out ways to accompany and help Hannah on an off the equipment. She has always loved to climb, crawl, and jump her way through life. She also loved the social connections the class provided. She wasn’t yet in a daycare setting so this was one of her first opportunities to interact with lots of children at once. She learned their names. We learned their names and even in the early toddler years, some children seemed to gravitate more towards each other than others. There were a few girls and boys that Hannah seemed particularly drawn to. She’d seek them out at stations and vice versa.
It was one of these girls that I noticed was carefully handing out envelopes to each child as they were seated on the line at the end of class. She buzzed back and forth from her mom to each child in line. The little girl’s mom began to help with the process. She quickly handed an envelope to each of the children seated on either side of Hannah and then moved down the row. In the commotion, the gymnastics instructor was also stamping hands and feet to celebrate the completion of another class. Thankfully, Hannah was distracted by the stamping and happily bounced off after she received hers.
At the time, I had no idea what was in the envelope. Over the last few years, I’ve been handed or passed all sorts of things from other parents: Will you buy some cookies for my Girl Scout? Will you join our sticker chain mail group? Will you donate to the XZY walk. My child will walk 1000 laps. There are also lots of instances where an envelope like this could hold plans to pool a donation or a present for the teacher in appreciation. I didn’t know what was inside and at the time, wasn’t thinking much about it.
I approached the mom-who had been very friendly with us throughout the class-and let her know that Hannah hadn’t received one. I remember asking if Hannah needed one as well.
The level of awkward reached an all-time high and for a moment, I thought my question might have literally frozen the woman! I immediately wished I could have retracted my question and we all could have gone about our day. But it was too late.
The woman stammered for a few seconds. At the same time, I….and now Hannah….could see the other children excitedly tearing open their envelopes to see a birthday party invitation. Some jumped up and down and many of them chattered about the party. Eventually, the woman explained that she hadn’t invited Hannah because their house wasn’t accessible and she didn’t know how we would get in to accompany her to the party.
I wish I could share that I replied with something that was thoughtful, educational, or even memorable. A few years have passed and to be honest, I don’t even remember my exact response-only how I felt. I somehow expressed that I understood what had happened, accepted her answer, and moved on. We saw each other week after week after this and while awkward, I didn’t want to make the situation unbearable.
In true 2-year-old fashion, Hannah asked a bit about the party on the way out the door and then became distracted by all of the other awesomeness there is to life. For that, I was thankful. Still, the moment was temporarily crushing for me. I can still see the visual of Hannah’s little hand out for her envelope and then her eyes watching all the other children opening theirs. It was eye-opening that an adult would think it completely justified to exclude a child based on their parents’ disabilities-and do so in such an explicit manner.
Whether right or wrong on the other parent’s behalf, the incident woke worries in me that Hannah would have trouble making friends-through no fault of her own but because her parents are in wheelchairs. I wondered how many other events she’d be excluded from because of us.
Three years later, I’m thankful for the timing of this challenging moment. Had it happened today, Hannah would have had so many, many more questions. We talk very openly about disability and even about how many people don’t understand or accept differences in others but this situation would be hard to relive at any age. We’ve successfully participated in many more programs and events in our community. My husband and I are frequent faces in our children’s classrooms and the kids and parents are almost always very welcoming. There will always be isolated instances of ignorance. We’ve learned to speak up more in early phases of relationships and not to worry as much when some connections just don’t work out. I’m more open about the way I problem solve getting in and out of places that are not accessible. As my children get older, I realize that I want them to befriend and spend time with friends and families that are open-minded and accepting. If a parent is not open-minded enough to accept our family than they are likely close-minded about other issues and people.
Lastly, the event taught me that I will never be able to control all the sources of potential pain that the outside world can introduce to my child(ren). It’s tempting to withdraw….Drop out of the classes and hunker down in your safe, happy home. That approach, however, lets the ignorance prevail. Our family would be missing out on our community, friendships, and all that this world has to offer……and that world would be missing out on our family.
Nithya Narayan says
Thank you Kara, you have written it so beautifully. It is very important to share and shed light on small incidents like this, as a parent with a child with disability, I have faced this many times in my life. When I share stories related to these acceptance issues, I have friends on facebook who dont have a disability or have a family member with disability who read it and acknowlegde the fact that they are able to understand what full acceptance means and really is. So it is so important to bring these stories alive and share with people. You have written it so well and beautifully, hopefully this reaches many people and opens thier heart and mind. We cannot change everything in this world but definetely make every attempt and trials to change people’s mind.
Everyone one doesn’t get invited to every party. It does not matter how old, disability etc. there are selfish, self absorbed parents and their offspring no matter where you go. While it hurts us that our children are not invited, etc, we need to also teach coping skills and how to remain resilient. I was the uninvited child.
I’m sorry to hear your daughter was excluded. It seems to me if the parent had spoken to you about it beforehand, perhaps other arrangements could have been made, such as having another adult accompany her to the party. The way she went about it seemed very unkind and thoughtless.
Claudia Hall Christian says
“the event taught me that I will never be able to control all the sources of potential pain that the outside world can introduce to my child(ren).”
This is one of the things that I love about you. I’m always so very proud to call you “friend.” I wish we lived in the same neighborhood so that I could hang out with you and your family. It would be my greatest honor.
I wonder though — what might be a better way to deal with this? if it were me, I might feel the same thing — I have 3 steps at the front, steps at every entrance. I struggle with them myself.
If I were having a party, would it be okay to ask: “Hey, I have stairs will that be a problem?” What’s the best way to deal with this situation? I would so much rather have you come!!
Most wheelchair users have non-disabled friends and family. So being invited to inaccessible homes isn’t a “new” problem for any of us. We all have our ways of dealing with various barriers in family homes and we won’t give you the same look as we’d give, say, a cafe that is failing to meet the obligation to consider access.
For myself – I am prepared to take measures in a private home that I wouldn’t dream of taking in public spaces, for instance crawling on the floor instead of using my wheelchair. I’m also prepared to make one-off adjustments that aren’t practical for daily life, such as limiting my fluid intake to ensure I won’t need to struggle with an inaccessible bathroom.
I’d say, start with the basics. “I want to invite you.” That’s always nice, to know that someone wants to invite you to something. Then state what you think might be an issue, just as long as it’s “is there a way around this barrier?” and not “I have already decided that this barrier is insurmountable.”
Frank Verpaelst says
As a man born with dwarfism, I’m lucky my wife is average height, and healthier than most people. She takes our daughter to these inaccessible parties, and places, but still, I’m the one who is left out.
I deal with that loneliness by developing my own creative skills (drawing, writing, and music), so that when my daughter IS home, she has experiences with me that she normally does not get.
Now if only I can get MY friends to move into more accessible housing, I’d have more of a social life.
TBI Insider says
If nothing else,these kinds of situations taught my son compassion and how to deal with all kinds of people when he was presented with a difficult situation.
He is a well developed young man now and stronger because of it all.