Invisible lines?

A girl who is in a wheelchair cannot be expected to finish a lap in the same time as her fellow classmates, but she can be expected to participate in all academic studies at the same rate as her classmates. While the expectations in this situation are clear, not all circumstances involving the expectations for physically or mentally disabled students are so easily defined. If a student has a severe speech impediment, should they be encouraged to present their project in front of class on the same grading scale as everyone else, in hopes that the experience will motivate them and prepare them for life after school? Grading this student while acknowledging their impediment would be to recognize that they cannot physically present their project at the same rate of speech as anyone else.

In terms of physical and mental disabilities, it is often difficult for education centers to differentiate treatment for students deemed to have special needs. The current method many schools use is, like with the rest of their academic ventures, extremely generalized. This is problematic for students who are lumped into the vague category of “special needs” because it gives them an idea of their capabilities that is almost always inequivalent to their actual abilities.

My twin sister, who has been put into the category of a student with special needs since we entered the public school system, has often been judged by her physical disability as an indicator of her mental ability. She has a very visible physical disability because she cannot walk without the aid of a metal walker. When people see my sister for the first time, they often assume that she is severely mentally handicapped. Although my sister can read body signals and fully interact in conversation, she often struggles to advocate for herself, an important issue for most people with any sort of disability. If a teacher judges by my sister’s appearance that she cannot participate in class at the same intellectual level as everyone else and starts to expect a decreased amount of participation from her, my sister would not be able to discern that her teacher is no longer expecting her to raise her hand in class and contribute.

If teachers expect decreased academic participation from students who have severe physical disabilities, that is discrimination by assuming they have a mental handicap associated with their physical disability. Students with disabilities are often faced with the portrayal of their abilities as less than those of students who are not disabled, leading them to believe and act in ways that limit their capabilities. But in most cases, disabled students cannot be expected to meet the same standards of able-bodied students in academic settings. My sister, for example, does not do well in a traditional classroom setting because she is easily distracted. She needs a more focused teacher with a much smaller class size who can bring her attention back to the class frequently.

So where should the line be drawn between what a disabled student can and cannot do in school? The problem public schools face is they cannot cater to the specific needs of every child, usually because they do not have adequate staff for so many small classes. Regardless, something needs to change so that disabled students, who already have little to no representation in the everyday culture of their lives, such as books and television shows, can see themselves portrayed in schools as just as sufficient as any other students to live normal lives and participate fully in the world around them.

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