Story by Georgia Parsons
Illustration by Alicia Zhang
The disability rights movement began in the 1960s as an effort to challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes surrounding disabilities. Parents demanded that their children be taken out of institutions and placed into schools with the necessary accommodations in order to succeed. Since then, dozens of acts have been passed that allow disabled students to receive an inclusive education. However, in achieving full equity, there is still a long way to go.
SPHS currently offers disability accommodations through a 504 plan that outlines the support a student with disabilities can receive from teachers, obtained through a medical diagnosis. If a student requires additional support, they can apply for an IEP, or Individualized Education Program, in which the student receives support from the Special Education department. Although this course of action is sufficient, societal conditions and the stigma surrounding mental health make it difficult to obtain a medical diagnosis in the first place. Furthermore, a lack of education surrounding mental health can lead to insensitive rhetoric and stereotypes that only exacerbate the difficulties individuals with disabilities undergo on a daily basis.
The process of diagnosing mental disorders and disabilities, from bipolar disorder to ADHD, can be long and arduous, taking months or even years. Booking an appointment with a psychologist can take a great amount of time and money. Even once an appointment is obtained, there is no guarantee that a mental disorder will be accurately diagnosed. In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine, 80 percent of children who need mental health services do not get them.
The stigma surrounding mental disorders and disabilities also plays a role in the lack of access people have to mental health diagnoses and care. Oftentimes, the people surrounding these individuals may not even know that certain symptoms characterize a disability. Individuals with mental health disorders and disabilities are often written off as lazy or neglectful. This invalidation is a form of ableism.
Ableism is defined as discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. These acts of discrimination can be explicit, in the form of slurs or derogatory remarks, or in more covert forms that are just as pervasive. General culture of negative attitudes towards disabilities and mental health disorders are ingrained in American schools, however these biases are rarely recognized.
Society’s misconception that mental disability is “not a real problem,” a falsehood especially prevalent at SPHS, can prevent students from obtaining the accommodations they need. According to student testimonials, teachers and counselors have dismissed symptoms of mental illness when students are achieving good grades or succeeding in other areas. This dismissal is especially harmful because it supports the idea that one is “not disabled enough” to receive adequate support.
The issue of ableism is far more nuanced and includes patterns that are deeply rooted in American culture. Colloquial phrases such as “I’m so OCD” are thrown around on a regular basis, without an understanding of the complexities of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This microaggression is one small part of the discrimination disabled people face on a daily basis.
Society’s negative attitudes towards disabled people stems from the lack of education, ultimately creating a barrier to inclusion. Regular classrooms need curriculum that is disability-inclusive, in order to dismantle the ableistic culture and ally with the disabled community in their fight for justice.