Hello all! Welcome to the first post of the CapABLE blog series. This series is intended to be a place for disability advocates, education professionals, someone with a disability or who has loved with a disability, etc. to share wisdom, guidance, or experiences regarding different topics relevant to disability inclusion within public education. I am working on gathering some resources and blog posts from other authors but I wanted to kick things off by sharing a little bit of my story and what led me to create the CapABLE Curriculum.
When I was seven years old, my brother Josiah was born and diagnosed with Nemaline Myopathy, a rare neuromuscular disease. This diagnosis changed the course of my life. Since his birth, I have been a committed advocate of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Children’s Miracle Network, and similar causes that affect his care and quality of life. My years of advocacy for Josiah began with fundraising goals to bring awareness to his rare condition. As my work evolved, I began to develop problem solving models for communities wishing to bring awareness to these causes. I spoke in schools and local events, organized fundraisers, implemented MDA fundraising challenges in the Perry County School District, and ultimately helped to raise over $300,000 for Muscular Dystrophy. I realized the longer I was involved, the more I wanted to do something that was more hands-on and left a personal impact on a child’s life. I had the privilege of working as a public policy intern in Washington, D.C. for a semester where I served as a liaison to Congress for a disability nonprofit. Throughout this experience, I was able to deepen my knowledge of disability and education policies and communities with members of Congress on how they can implement these practices in their respective states. Through this important work, the idea for an alternate curriculum for students with disabilities began to evolve.
Being the daughter of educators and the sister of a child with a disability, I was quick to develop a connection with children with disabilities and pay close attention to how disability policy is implemented in the public school system. Often times, the Americans with Disabilities Act is seen as a blanket solution to all disability issues, but unfortunately there are loopholes which can have unintended consequences for students in need of inclusive services. After the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, the physical barrier was removed for students, however, there was no program in place that addressed or removed the social barrier. My social impact initiative, CapABLE, provides education stakeholders with solutions for bridging emotional learning for all students. It is an initiative that focuses on celebrating the differences between young students with disabilities and those without, eliminating stigma, and encouraging diversity in education. The program highlights two specific points; to educate non-disabled students on how to communicate about disability and to empower students with disabilities to celebrate and embrace their differences without letting it place a divide amongst their peers.
As Miss University of Southern Mississippi, I have had opportunities to present in multiple counties throughout our state to encourage teachers and administrators to implement my program into their classrooms. The curriculum is being taught in classes currently in Mississippi and I am working hard to continuing expanding. My end goal is to use the connections I made in Washington, D.C. to turn this curriculum into usable state legislation. Having the CapABLE curriculum written into state legislation and passed into law would ensure that every school in the state of Mississippi is equipped to teach and reach all students. I believe it is imperative to the success of our public school system and students’ futures that our politicians are actively embracing new programs that promote diversity, inclusion, anti-bullying, and camaraderie between students.
2/3 of people admit to avoiding people with disabilities out of discomfort and not knowing how to act around them. This mindset is the root of bullying and discrimination and the best way we can prevent this mindset in our children is through education. Every child deserves to feel embraced, loved, encouraged, and free to be themselves, especially in an environment where they spend 15% of their life. Through this program, it is my mission to ensure that every student becomes their own superhero. I want every student across the state to learn how to embrace their superpowers by not allowing personal setbacks to stand in the way of proving they are CapABLE of whatever they set their mind to.