The word “potential” is used a lot when talking about children with disabilities. Phrases like, “focus on the potential”, “reach their full potential” and so forth are popular.
All children have potential (I wrote a post about that here). All children, with or without disability and inclusive of all genders and race have potential. Full stop.
What I think people do not take into perspective as often as they should, however, is that of privilege.
Privilege and Disability
A child that is white and raised in an upper or upper-middle class home with educated parents will be afforded far greater opportunities than would a child of color, raised in a lower-income home. Having parents who are not educated will further strip the child of some of the opportunity to fulfill potential. This is true of any child in the United States of 2016. I’m going to say that income and education hold more importance than race, but we do live in a country that needs a campaign like #blacklivesmatter for a reason. White privilege is real.
There was an article in the Washington Post recently about parents of a young man with Down syndrome who “saw his potential.” The parents in the article sound fantastic, but the question remained: would a family of less financial means be able to do the same thing? Would other parents have had the health care or been able to afford to take their child to a top foot specialist? Would they be able to get their son custom-designed orthotics every year? What about the annual checkups at Duke?
My point is that the parents in this particular case saw the potential in their son and had the resources to help him fulfill it. But many families don’t have that.
Education and Disability
Education is arguably the fundamental game-changer for people with disabilities and their families. If a person with a disability is raised by educated parents – however and poor and of whatever race – they stand a chance of reaching their full potential by dint of the parent being able to work through the hoops of the system. The parent would understand the IEP process and have the ability to question authority and organize resources for their child. If the child receives a solid education, that child, when grown, will be able to self-advocate.
The question then to me is, how do we keep the ball moving for this? How can we work more effectively to make sure that all children with disabilities receive a good education and are able to self-advocate? How can we help their parents, if needed? How can we make sure that information and resources reach families of lower income, so that their children can reach their potential?
I don’t have real answers to this, but I suspect that active participation in the coming elections, and political presence is critical. What are your thoughts?