Inclusion requires at least two tasks: Educating able-bodied individuals about life with a disability and empowering individuals with handicaps to assert themselves into an able-bodied dominate world. I write to achieve these goals. Now, before I move forward, let me properly introduce myself.
My name is Zachary Fenell and I was born with a mild case of cerebral palsy. My experience living with CP drives me to write about disabilities. I penned Off Balanced (currently available on the Kindle and Nook), my teenage memoir exploring how having CP affected me socially as a teen. I’ve written various articles on disabilities for different websites such as, “Bullying Students with Disabilities: How to Fight Back” for Disaboom and “How to Incorporate Cerebral Palsy in Inclusive Classes” for e-How. Additionally, I use social media to spread the word about disabilities, launching a blog to correspond with my book (www.offbalanced.wordpress.com), and tweeting about interesting disability-related stories. I actually first learned about Handicap This! through my
Twitter efforts, but more on that in a little bit.
First I wish to share why – why I penned Off Balanced, why I write disability content for the web, and why I use social media to spread disability awareness. I do these things to educate able-bodied individuals about life with a disability and to empower people with handicaps to assert themselves into an able-bodied dominate world.
To me, the friendship Tim Wambach and Mike Berkson share demonstrates genuine inclusion. I want to emphasize the word “genuine” because, honestly, some attempts at inclusion really end up being segregation in disguise. Take, for example, a special needs camp for children with handicaps. I like the idea such programs gives kids opportunities to participate in activities they otherwise might not get the chance to perform, however where’s the inclusion in taking kids with disabilities and lumping them together into a group?
Tim and Mike, on the other hand, embody the very definition of inclusion. Together they are two friends, one who just happens to be journeying through life in a wheelchair. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment because my daily Google Alerts email for “cerebral palsy” continuously generates rave reviews for Tim and Mike’s stage show, Handicap This!
In fact, my daily Google Alerts “cerebral palsy” email introduced me to Tim and Mike. I read one review for Handicap This! and thought, “Wow, this is a pretty cool story. I’m going to tweet this.” Normally I enjoy seeing some of my followers retweet the message and then that’s that – not with Handicap This. Seeing story after story on Tim and Mike left a lasting impression.
Eventually I followed them on Twitter. When I started contacting prominent individuals within the cerebral palsy community to endorse Off Balanced, the Handicap This duo quickly came to my mind. Tim’s praise filled me with pride, “Zachary writes in such a descriptive way that the reader can’t help but feel like they know him personally. Zach’s never-give-up attitude is something to envy!”
Initially I wrote Off Balanced aiming to reach teens with disabilities who felt burdened by their handicaps. You see, that’s how I felt as a disabled teenager educated within mainstream classrooms. A conversation regarding my book with my old eighth grade English teacher led me to realize anyone who interacts with teenagers who have disabilities (i.e. parents, teachers, and classmates) could take something meaningful away from Off Balanced. For instance, check out the following excerpt from my book:
Outside my small social circle I still remained closed off to my peers. When classmates engaged me beyond the polite “˜Hi, how are you?’ dialogue I felt awkward. One Monday afternoon as my fellow scholars filed into the classroom Tova, a girl who sat next to me and who had a few classes with me dating back to junior high, walked in and greeted me “˜Hi Zach, how was your weekend?’
“˜Good.’ I responded in my typical one word fashion. “˜How was your weekend?’ I asked back to show courtesy.
Tova briefly told me about her weekend before surprising me with a follow-up question “˜What did you do this weekend?’
“˜What did I do?’ I thought. “˜Um, uh’ I stalled for time trying to decide what to say. I actually enjoyed a semi-memorable weekend.
Saturday afternoon I went up to the local card store to participate in an MLB Showdown tournament. I didn’t want to say that though because I believed games like Showdown contained an un-cool stigma with kids my age. This showed with the tournament’s demographic, mostly eighth graders. After getting eliminated from the tournament’s semi-finals I went home and watched the Indians game. As much as I enjoyed watching the Tribe, telling Tova “˜I watched the Indians game’ didn’t seem eventful enough to share. “˜Not much’ I elected to say instead.
Personally I believe the fact I can recall the above incident so clearly displays a potential difference between your average teenager and one who happens to live with a disability. I’m certain the ordinary adolescent wouldn’t think twice about the aforementioned scenario. Yet to someone who finds himself pretty much isolated from his peers, the smallest instance becomes memorable. If able-bodied classmates read Off Balanced, perhaps my insights could give them a better ability to relate to a disabled peer and indirectly trigger a stronger inclusive classroom.
Ultimately I reason the more effectively we weave inclusion into classrooms and society in general, the greater benefits everyone enjoys. Individuals with disabilities experience belonging and the opportunity to debunk negative stigmas surrounding handicaps. Able-bodied people increase probabilities for befriending and learning from others. So, in conclusion, I wish to steal a line from Tim and Mike and tell everyone working towards improving inclusion, “Keep on keeping on.”
-Zachary Fenell (@zacharyfenell)
Author of Off Balanced and Article/Content Writer