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Finishing the race.

It was with some surprise that I learned I had been selected for membership in Exceptional Parent's Hall of Fame. Being a parent is the only thing I haven't experienced, despite being quadriplegic since a bout with polio in my early childhood.

At first, I considered politely declining because it's not possible to know what it's like to be the parent of a child with a disability unless you've been one. Upon reflection, however, I realized that I may have a message of interest to parents because I was a child who grew up with a severe disability. My parents, like today's exceptional parents, were pioneers. Like you, they fought an obstacle course -- except back then, there weren't even paths on which to run and the woods were full of hostile elements.

Nearly 40 years ago, my parents were told that I would always be a hopeless cripple. They were advised to keep me at home, or put me in one, and get on with their lives. Like you readers of Exceptional Parent understand, that attitude was not acceptable to my parents.

All education was denied to me from the eighth grade until my junior year in high school. Friends and neighbors tutored me and I was able to go on to college and earn two degrees. Our community accepted me when I was a child. I participated in 4-H, the farm youth training ground. My family, tutors and neighbors demanded as much of me as of any other child. Later, my professors and employers demanded performance equal to that of my peers.

The one gift you can give your child with a disability is to expect and demand the very best from him or her. It's frequently easier for you to dress your child or get him or her a drink, but you may be depriving your child of the joy of independence and equality.

The demands made on me for performance equal to my peers have had other rewards. I have enjoyed a career in business, triumph in international sports, the opportunity to promote legislation for access to assistive technology and equal opportunity and the honor of having been chosen by United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago to guide the development of Infinitec.

This center will involve the efforts of many people in using technology to overcome limitations resulting from disabilities. Infinitec will serve as a national model and resource for parents, people with disabilities, health care professionals, manufacturers of technology and perhaps most importantly, the people who fund technology to overcome disability.

Now, let me summarize why parents of exceptional children are like the marathon runners who have completed 25.5 miles of a 26-mile, 385-yard race.

The marathon is about making sure that every child -- whether he or she has a mobility limitation, a cognitive problem, a learning disorder or a sight or hearing impairment -- has the opportunity to be a fully empowered member of our society.

In the past 20 years, parents have:

* Forced legislation assuring every child the opportunity for an equal and integrated education.

* Promoted legislation to give children with disabilities access to the technology that can give them a level playing field.

* Been an important factor in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the most sweeping civil fights legislation ever enacted by any nation.

* Agonized over the lack of support from their communities but drawn strength from other parents in similar situations.

* Known the despair of trying to assure the rights of their children but have been too stubborn to give up.

The most important event that has affected the lives of those of us who have disabilities in the past 20 years has not been legislation. It has not been the proliferation of technology. It has not even been the public's change of attitude that says, "Hey, people with disabilities are valuable people, too." The most important event has been seeing the courage of parents, including my own, who have said, "I will not accept that my child must be a second-class citizen because he or she has a disability."

Every mile you have run has made life easier not only for children with disabilities, but also for adults who become disabled and those of us who will be fortunate enough to enjoy advanced age without physical and mental restrictions.

You have blisters on your feet, you've "hit the wall," you are weary. But what a sweet victory -- what a contribution to our entire society exceptional parents have made.

Jan Little is director of Infinitec in Chicago, III. Infinitec is an information, training and research facility developed to increase access to assistive technology for people who need it. Little has developed assistive technology, marketed it, improved its service delivery, conducted workshops and uses it herself. Little earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism and communications sciences from the University of Illinois/ Urbana-Champaign.
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Title Annotation:Hall of Fame; raising a handicapped child
Author:Little, Jan
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:814
Previous Article:Investing in all children.
Next Article:Finding funding for assistive technology.
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