Monday, April 24, 2006


Automibles, airplanes, electric wheelchairs, antibiotics, microwave popcorn (and microwave ovens), open heart surgery, abolition, organ donation, remote controls, television, rockets to the moon, copiers (remember dittos?), desktop publishing, computers, integration, personal computers, hand-held computers, electric stoves, the internet, digital photography, genome mapping, indoor plumbing, contact lenses, Buffalo-style chicken wings, automatic dishwashers, DVDs, women's suffrage, cell phones, cordless phones, CPR, mechanical bulls, refrigeration, etc, etc...

The inventors of all of these things (and many, many more) were all considered unrealistic.

Even things we consider fundamental realities today, like democracy, were ridiculed when they were proposed (hence the electoral college!)

Prior to the 1970s it was written in textbooks that people with Down syndrome could not learn to read. When the laws changed and children with disabilities went to school this known "fact" was challenged. It is now estimated that a large percentage of people with Down syndrome can learn to read at above a 4th grade level--and many above an 8th grade level. This in spite of pretty poor compliance with the education laws throughout the country.

The term "unrealistic" sounds so practical, so irrefutable, so final when a naysayer uses it to squash an idea, but this is far from the truth. The fact is, NOTHING is realistic until it's real. Unrealistic is the place where every worthwile endeavor in the history of humankind began.

As Frances Hodgson Burnett said, "At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, and then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago."

So smile when they call you unrealistic--you are in great company. You might even be on the path to discovering the best thing since sliced bread!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The End of the Rope

I was in 5th grade gym class when I first encountered "the rope." You know the one, it hangs from the (very high) ceiling to the floor of the gym and you're supposed to climb it. Theoretically you are supposed to cling to it using your arms to pull you up and your legs to keep you from losing ground while your arms reach ahead--I swear this was called shimmying or shinnying, but I looked both of those up and that is NOT what they mean!

Anyway, I couldn't do it. No matter how many demonstrations I got, no matter how many explanations they gave, no matter how much encouragement or teasing I got, I could not climb that rope.

Everyone else in my whole grade did it. Even the kids who weren't great at it the first week had figured it out by the third week. Not me.

Week four was set to be baseball. I admit I was scared. I had never failed so completely at anything before. I didn't know what was going to happen.

A couple of the other later-climbers and I talked about it. Were they going to keep us indoors to work on the rope when everyone else was outside playing ball? Were they going to call our parents? Were they going to make us stay after school? We just didn't know.

You know what happened? Nothing. Week four arrived and I went outside to play baseball with everyone else and no one said a word. I asked my teacher, "Do I get to go outside?" She said, "It's a new day, you might be good at baseball."

And after I didn't excell at baseball I got to move on to track. And after track, square dancing, and so on. Over the years I never got held back in one gym unit because I'd failed the last. And over the years I did find a few things I actually enjoyed and still do today.

Imagine the difference if I had a disability label. Too often in schools today if you can't tell time no one will even try to teach you about fractions. If you can't read you will not be in the classes about volcanoes or tidal waves, or Martin Luther King. You get to spend all of your time working on the things you cannot do while life goes on without you. Then you're old and too far behind and you get offered classes in "life-skills" instead of education.

You may well spend the rest of your life at the bottom of your rope with a few other non-climbers getting no other experiences, discovering no other strengths, building no other relationships.

It's time that we find ways to provide additional repetitions and accomodations without relegating a large portion of our population to a life at the end of their rope.