Recently, the Winnicki Family tried to sign their daughters up for dance lessons. Anna, who is 8, has Down syndrome. The studio they called turned them away because the owner said he didn’t take retarded dancers and that they should seek out a special school that could “manage” her. As you can imagine, the special needs community lit up and everyone was up in arms. There were also quite a few exchanges on social media about whether the business owner has the right to serve who he wishes and what constitutes discrimination.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. But bear with me a moment. One of our biggest responsibilities as parents and family members of individuals with special needs is education and advocacy. We educate the people we come in contact with about our loved one’s disability and more importantly, their abilities. We advocate for them where necessary – at school, with medical staff, with therapists and other professionals. As time goes on, we get more comfortable with that role, until we do it naturally. I’ve found, and perhaps you have too, that my roles as educator, advocate and cheerleader don’t just stop with my son. I find myself doing it for every kid, every adult, everyone who can’t do it for themselves. I’m like a professional cheerleader except without the go-go boots and I can stay home in my jimmies when it’s cold out. I’ll cheer for my kid and your kid and that one over there too. One of the great things about working at danceability is that I get to be a cheerleader for a whole lot of people on a daily basis. One of the best things about attending a danceability performance at the end of the year is I get to be with all my cheerleader buddies in one place. It’s like a big cheerleader convention and we can all let loose to our heart’s content! Man, that feels good!
So when someone uses the R-word, we get upset. We get angry. Using the r-word is hate speech. So when someone uses it, we put it in just those terms. We say something like: “Whoa, I’m sorry, that word is really offensive. It’s hate speech. It insults an entire group of people, many of whom are unable to speak up for themselves. It is hate speech just the same way that the n-word is. Please do not use it anymore.” It can be both easy and hard to say that to one person. But it seems we still need to say it to a lot of people because for some reason this kind of discrimination is still hanging on. There are campaigns against bullying and everyone agrees that it’s bad and should be eradicated. Let’s help the general population see that using the r-word is also bullying. Not giving someone a chance to demonstrate their true abilities is also bullying. So when we see it or hear it, no matter who it’s directed at, we have an obligation to speak up and say “That is not ok. And this is why.” And then we need to keep repeating it and repeating it and repeating it again until everyone gets it.
We have an obligation to do whatever we can to educate and advocate for the entire special needs community. So while I have never met the Winnicki Family, I’m on their side and I’m fighting with them. But let’s take a deep breath and a step back. Let’s channel those emotions into action.
What can we do together as the danceability family to make everyone’s lives the best they can be? We need to brainstorm together to figure out what actions we can take as part of the larger community to make sure our loved ones get the chance to shine, no matter what they want to do, be it dance or music or sport or wherever their hearts lead them. Let’s use our roles as educators and advocates to keep changing the world. Let’s be cheerleaders with purpose. Who’s with me?
– Beth Gianturco
danceability Parent & Office Assistant