On Seeking Equality - the GraceSigns backstory
Equality, or the lack thereof, is something we are facing once again after the brutal slaying of George Floyd. As a nation, we are reexamining our lack of tolerance for our innate differences. Black lives do matter, the color of one’s skin does not warrant mistreatment. All humans are equally human. This is a long hard lesson that has been difficult for many to learn. We may not look the same, act the same or speak the same, but we are in fact, very much the same. We all have hopes, desires, bodies and souls. We were all born and we will all die. We all have special abilities and some disabilities. The great equalizer is that not one of us is perfect, but it is our imperfections that make us unique. If we all looked and acted the same, we would resemble worker ants. Instead our differences give us our human-ness, something to accept, embrace and celebrate.
Still, life is not fair to all of us. Some may have been endowed with gifts while others have challenges to endure and overcome. What to do with this? Should we vent our frustrations or channel them into change?
When my daughter, Grace who has Down syndrome was in the third grade, she was bullied by being laughed at and ignored. My happy girl came home every day from school sad. As for me, I was mad. I wanted to bang my fist but I didn’t. I made calls, I stayed on the playground and watched for offenders, I spoke to the teachers and aides. And yet, nothing changed until we moved and switched schools. In our new town, she finally found a place that she felt accepted. Unfortunately, this did not last. Because of her disability, she was discriminated against again, this time not by kids but by the administrators. “She won’t fit in,” they said. So, she wasn’t going to be allowed to stay in her familiar environment, ride the bus to school with her neighbors, and make the transition to middle school with her friends. Instead, we were told, she was to attend another school, far away. She did not understand this and neither did I. It was infuriating, and simply not right or fair to be judged because of human differences. Grace understood this and so did I. It would take time and patience for others to see this however.
Out of frustration, I decided to present my opinion at the next school board meeting. Calmly, but with verbal force and logical reasoning, I presented the facts. As a result, the school board voted to enact change. But, of course, nothing is so simple; the change did not take place immediately and my daughter, when finally allowed to return to her home school, opted out. She was happy where she was. There would be acceptance for others in that school, but not for her. Nevertheless, it was a victory; we can see that- through conviction and perseverance - the opportunity for equality can be realized.
Change is a process and through these experiences- something changed in me. I decided to take my burning energy and create something positive. My daughter Grace has always had speech challenges. I wanted to help her and others by creating free sign language apps that would make communication easy. In 2013, I launched GraceSigns, a nonprofit organization with a focus on inclusive education. It is a small endeavor, but it is my attempt at facilitating change because I believe an inclusive world is a better world.
Equality is evolving. It won’t happen overnight but all of us can be part of creating that reality for all of us human beings.