Dr. Jennifer Gibson

@drjen | contributor
For more than 50 years, I have lived a full, yet challenging life with Cerebral Palsy. As a Clinical Psychologist, I work to educate health care providers in providing competent care to people with disabilities. I provide support to families of children with disabilities. I am a mother to an adult son and step daughter and have two wonderful grandchildren.
Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Getting Stuck and Being Resourceful With Cerebral Palsy

I am a woman whose basic intelligence is questioned whenever I leave the comfort of home. Cerebral palsy is the culprit. “Accidents” seldom happen to me – at least that’s the message I’ve received throughout my 57 years of stares. I am not afforded the kindness others receive to simply bumble a stack of notes or have a wet, slippery jar fall from my grasp. Meticulous forethought precedes most actions I take in an effort to avoid such judgment. Now that I have set the scene, on with my tale. I just wanted yesterday to end. My 16-year-old pug, Athena, reached the next realm. Louie, my toddler Maltipoo, knew something was “off” when I returned home without her. I had spent three sleepless nights mulling over the decision to let her go. I barely slept while she wandered aimlessly around the house, clacking her claws against the floor’s wooden planks with the occasional grunt. Her stomach was weak and refused to keep anything down. I prepared for bed so I could sleep away some of my sadness in my sun-filled room. The nightstand clock displayed “6:38 p.m.” as I meandered towards the ensuite bathroom. I grabbed the TV remote from the foot of the bed, tuning into QVC background noise to minimize Louie’s “reactive-to-strange-sounds” barking. He had darted across my path before jumping into bed to await my return while I continued towards the sink. I went to dry my dewy, washed face with the towel hanging behind the bathroom door. I had removed the doorknob a while back due to its stiffness and recently had reinstalled it when listing my house for sale. It remained difficult to open. I never closed the door to avoid the dexterity and strength challenge of opening it. Pent-up emotion surfaced. I leaned into the towel in a bereaved, dazed moment. The door shut. Rapid, short breaths replaced my budding sobs. “ You’re OK, Jen. The knob is stiff, but it will open.” 10 minutes of frantic knob twisting ensued – and failed. “ Oh, shit! There’s no way out!” My son, Anthony, had flown in for a visit to say his goodbyes to Athena. He had left two days ago — and no one was expected to come over anytime soon. Nobody was coming to help me. I pillaged the room’s “escape” resources — nail clippers, blow dryer, towel rods, soap, and green-handled floss. “ C’mon, MacGyver instincts. Kick in!” I prayed to my guardian angels for guidance and strength. The bathroom’s garden window above the tub was built not to open. I tried to smash it with the blow dryer. No luck. Towel rod strikes on the door failed too. I mustered up my anger and hauled off to break down the door. Nope — it didn’t work! When night fell, I sporadically started turning the bathroom light on and off in hopes to catch a neighbor’s attention. I made countless attempts to open the door with a pair of outstretched nail clippers as I had seen portrayed decades ago on 70s detective shows – except Starsky and Hutch used a plastic credit card to slide past the lip of the door. The clipper snipped the skin on my hand whenever the door seemed close to opening. I wrapped a Band-Aid around my skin to avoid further damage. However, it did not prevent blisters from forming. My effort with the floss handles also proved moot. “ Damn! There’s no way I’m getting out of here if I injure my hands.” I turned off the light and laid down whenever hot sweat rolled into my eyes. I drank from the sink’s faucet to rehydrate knowing that my most important resource — my strength — was limited. Cerebral palsy requires me to eat protein every few hours to maintain energy — and I didn’t have any food with me. Stillness allowed whispers to creep into my mind. “ There’s no way out. After all the hell I’ve gone through in this life, I’ll starve to death?” Louie’s whimpers interrupted my episode of nonsensical thoughts. “I’m here, Louie.” My fingers struggled beneath the door to feel his warm licks. “I p’omise I’ll get out of here soon, Lou. I p’omise.” Another round of clipper-probing, window-banging, and light-flickering commenced — with no success. It was the first of at least twelve more rounds. Honestly, I lost count. Morning sunlight filtered into the room as I laid on my makeshift towel-bed. I knew that it must be nearing 6:00 a.m. QVC’s Alberti’s faint laughter floated into the room. Did I fall asleep? The remaining hanging towel rod caught my eye when I gazed upward. There are tiny screw holes in the wall that hold it up. I was engulfed in hope as I dismantled the rod and started to chip away the plaster with one of its screws. “ Please… don’t be pipes in the wall!” My anticipatory strength took hold. I pounded the plaster with the blow dryer once the hole was large enough. There were no pipes! To prevent further blistering, I wrapped the dryer’s handle with a pink T-shirt that I had previously carelessly left on the floor. HGTV stars’ voices bantered “Demo day!” in my head as I increased my strength with each strike. Burning sweat dripped into my eyes, down the back of my legs, and everywhere else. “ Slow down, Jen! You know you’re getting out of here. Take your time.” I regained strength with intermittent sits on the ceramic throne’s lid. “ Get up! Let’s do this.” I continued pounding. I was then met with what seemed to be wall-spanned, hard cardboard. “ Damn! There’s more?” Once I got through the brown plank, I found a second wall. “ Don’t cry now. You’ve got this!” I commenced the screw-picking once again. Hours later, escape loomed. The newly constructed exit was impossible for my body to slide through. I stuck my head into the darkened closet and immediately heard an imaginary Jack Nickolas shout, “ Here’s… Jenny! “ My pounding continued and intensified until my twisted body wormed through my new masterpiece. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, I emerged after spending 16 hours trapped in my bathroom and was met with both a tail-wagging Louie and my son Anthony’s ringtone. It was 10:27 a.m. “Hel…lo,” I gasped. “Why are you out of breath, Mom?” he replied.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Getting Stuck and Being Resourceful With Cerebral Palsy

I am a woman whose basic intelligence is questioned whenever I leave the comfort of home. Cerebral palsy is the culprit. “Accidents” seldom happen to me – at least that’s the message I’ve received throughout my 57 years of stares. I am not afforded the kindness others receive to simply bumble a stack of notes or have a wet, slippery jar fall from my grasp. Meticulous forethought precedes most actions I take in an effort to avoid such judgment. Now that I have set the scene, on with my tale. I just wanted yesterday to end. My 16-year-old pug, Athena, reached the next realm. Louie, my toddler Maltipoo, knew something was “off” when I returned home without her. I had spent three sleepless nights mulling over the decision to let her go. I barely slept while she wandered aimlessly around the house, clacking her claws against the floor’s wooden planks with the occasional grunt. Her stomach was weak and refused to keep anything down. I prepared for bed so I could sleep away some of my sadness in my sun-filled room. The nightstand clock displayed “6:38 p.m.” as I meandered towards the ensuite bathroom. I grabbed the TV remote from the foot of the bed, tuning into QVC background noise to minimize Louie’s “reactive-to-strange-sounds” barking. He had darted across my path before jumping into bed to await my return while I continued towards the sink. I went to dry my dewy, washed face with the towel hanging behind the bathroom door. I had removed the doorknob a while back due to its stiffness and recently had reinstalled it when listing my house for sale. It remained difficult to open. I never closed the door to avoid the dexterity and strength challenge of opening it. Pent-up emotion surfaced. I leaned into the towel in a bereaved, dazed moment. The door shut. Rapid, short breaths replaced my budding sobs. “ You’re OK, Jen. The knob is stiff, but it will open.” 10 minutes of frantic knob twisting ensued – and failed. “ Oh, shit! There’s no way out!” My son, Anthony, had flown in for a visit to say his goodbyes to Athena. He had left two days ago — and no one was expected to come over anytime soon. Nobody was coming to help me. I pillaged the room’s “escape” resources — nail clippers, blow dryer, towel rods, soap, and green-handled floss. “ C’mon, MacGyver instincts. Kick in!” I prayed to my guardian angels for guidance and strength. The bathroom’s garden window above the tub was built not to open. I tried to smash it with the blow dryer. No luck. Towel rod strikes on the door failed too. I mustered up my anger and hauled off to break down the door. Nope — it didn’t work! When night fell, I sporadically started turning the bathroom light on and off in hopes to catch a neighbor’s attention. I made countless attempts to open the door with a pair of outstretched nail clippers as I had seen portrayed decades ago on 70s detective shows – except Starsky and Hutch used a plastic credit card to slide past the lip of the door. The clipper snipped the skin on my hand whenever the door seemed close to opening. I wrapped a Band-Aid around my skin to avoid further damage. However, it did not prevent blisters from forming. My effort with the floss handles also proved moot. “ Damn! There’s no way I’m getting out of here if I injure my hands.” I turned off the light and laid down whenever hot sweat rolled into my eyes. I drank from the sink’s faucet to rehydrate knowing that my most important resource — my strength — was limited. Cerebral palsy requires me to eat protein every few hours to maintain energy — and I didn’t have any food with me. Stillness allowed whispers to creep into my mind. “ There’s no way out. After all the hell I’ve gone through in this life, I’ll starve to death?” Louie’s whimpers interrupted my episode of nonsensical thoughts. “I’m here, Louie.” My fingers struggled beneath the door to feel his warm licks. “I p’omise I’ll get out of here soon, Lou. I p’omise.” Another round of clipper-probing, window-banging, and light-flickering commenced — with no success. It was the first of at least twelve more rounds. Honestly, I lost count. Morning sunlight filtered into the room as I laid on my makeshift towel-bed. I knew that it must be nearing 6:00 a.m. QVC’s Alberti’s faint laughter floated into the room. Did I fall asleep? The remaining hanging towel rod caught my eye when I gazed upward. There are tiny screw holes in the wall that hold it up. I was engulfed in hope as I dismantled the rod and started to chip away the plaster with one of its screws. “ Please… don’t be pipes in the wall!” My anticipatory strength took hold. I pounded the plaster with the blow dryer once the hole was large enough. There were no pipes! To prevent further blistering, I wrapped the dryer’s handle with a pink T-shirt that I had previously carelessly left on the floor. HGTV stars’ voices bantered “Demo day!” in my head as I increased my strength with each strike. Burning sweat dripped into my eyes, down the back of my legs, and everywhere else. “ Slow down, Jen! You know you’re getting out of here. Take your time.” I regained strength with intermittent sits on the ceramic throne’s lid. “ Get up! Let’s do this.” I continued pounding. I was then met with what seemed to be wall-spanned, hard cardboard. “ Damn! There’s more?” Once I got through the brown plank, I found a second wall. “ Don’t cry now. You’ve got this!” I commenced the screw-picking once again. Hours later, escape loomed. The newly constructed exit was impossible for my body to slide through. I stuck my head into the darkened closet and immediately heard an imaginary Jack Nickolas shout, “ Here’s… Jenny! “ My pounding continued and intensified until my twisted body wormed through my new masterpiece. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, I emerged after spending 16 hours trapped in my bathroom and was met with both a tail-wagging Louie and my son Anthony’s ringtone. It was 10:27 a.m. “Hel…lo,” I gasped. “Why are you out of breath, Mom?” he replied.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Getting Stuck and Being Resourceful With Cerebral Palsy

I am a woman whose basic intelligence is questioned whenever I leave the comfort of home. Cerebral palsy is the culprit. “Accidents” seldom happen to me – at least that’s the message I’ve received throughout my 57 years of stares. I am not afforded the kindness others receive to simply bumble a stack of notes or have a wet, slippery jar fall from my grasp. Meticulous forethought precedes most actions I take in an effort to avoid such judgment. Now that I have set the scene, on with my tale. I just wanted yesterday to end. My 16-year-old pug, Athena, reached the next realm. Louie, my toddler Maltipoo, knew something was “off” when I returned home without her. I had spent three sleepless nights mulling over the decision to let her go. I barely slept while she wandered aimlessly around the house, clacking her claws against the floor’s wooden planks with the occasional grunt. Her stomach was weak and refused to keep anything down. I prepared for bed so I could sleep away some of my sadness in my sun-filled room. The nightstand clock displayed “6:38 p.m.” as I meandered towards the ensuite bathroom. I grabbed the TV remote from the foot of the bed, tuning into QVC background noise to minimize Louie’s “reactive-to-strange-sounds” barking. He had darted across my path before jumping into bed to await my return while I continued towards the sink. I went to dry my dewy, washed face with the towel hanging behind the bathroom door. I had removed the doorknob a while back due to its stiffness and recently had reinstalled it when listing my house for sale. It remained difficult to open. I never closed the door to avoid the dexterity and strength challenge of opening it. Pent-up emotion surfaced. I leaned into the towel in a bereaved, dazed moment. The door shut. Rapid, short breaths replaced my budding sobs. “ You’re OK, Jen. The knob is stiff, but it will open.” 10 minutes of frantic knob twisting ensued – and failed. “ Oh, shit! There’s no way out!” My son, Anthony, had flown in for a visit to say his goodbyes to Athena. He had left two days ago — and no one was expected to come over anytime soon. Nobody was coming to help me. I pillaged the room’s “escape” resources — nail clippers, blow dryer, towel rods, soap, and green-handled floss. “ C’mon, MacGyver instincts. Kick in!” I prayed to my guardian angels for guidance and strength. The bathroom’s garden window above the tub was built not to open. I tried to smash it with the blow dryer. No luck. Towel rod strikes on the door failed too. I mustered up my anger and hauled off to break down the door. Nope — it didn’t work! When night fell, I sporadically started turning the bathroom light on and off in hopes to catch a neighbor’s attention. I made countless attempts to open the door with a pair of outstretched nail clippers as I had seen portrayed decades ago on 70s detective shows – except Starsky and Hutch used a plastic credit card to slide past the lip of the door. The clipper snipped the skin on my hand whenever the door seemed close to opening. I wrapped a Band-Aid around my skin to avoid further damage. However, it did not prevent blisters from forming. My effort with the floss handles also proved moot. “ Damn! There’s no way I’m getting out of here if I injure my hands.” I turned off the light and laid down whenever hot sweat rolled into my eyes. I drank from the sink’s faucet to rehydrate knowing that my most important resource — my strength — was limited. Cerebral palsy requires me to eat protein every few hours to maintain energy — and I didn’t have any food with me. Stillness allowed whispers to creep into my mind. “ There’s no way out. After all the hell I’ve gone through in this life, I’ll starve to death?” Louie’s whimpers interrupted my episode of nonsensical thoughts. “I’m here, Louie.” My fingers struggled beneath the door to feel his warm licks. “I p’omise I’ll get out of here soon, Lou. I p’omise.” Another round of clipper-probing, window-banging, and light-flickering commenced — with no success. It was the first of at least twelve more rounds. Honestly, I lost count. Morning sunlight filtered into the room as I laid on my makeshift towel-bed. I knew that it must be nearing 6:00 a.m. QVC’s Alberti’s faint laughter floated into the room. Did I fall asleep? The remaining hanging towel rod caught my eye when I gazed upward. There are tiny screw holes in the wall that hold it up. I was engulfed in hope as I dismantled the rod and started to chip away the plaster with one of its screws. “ Please… don’t be pipes in the wall!” My anticipatory strength took hold. I pounded the plaster with the blow dryer once the hole was large enough. There were no pipes! To prevent further blistering, I wrapped the dryer’s handle with a pink T-shirt that I had previously carelessly left on the floor. HGTV stars’ voices bantered “Demo day!” in my head as I increased my strength with each strike. Burning sweat dripped into my eyes, down the back of my legs, and everywhere else. “ Slow down, Jen! You know you’re getting out of here. Take your time.” I regained strength with intermittent sits on the ceramic throne’s lid. “ Get up! Let’s do this.” I continued pounding. I was then met with what seemed to be wall-spanned, hard cardboard. “ Damn! There’s more?” Once I got through the brown plank, I found a second wall. “ Don’t cry now. You’ve got this!” I commenced the screw-picking once again. Hours later, escape loomed. The newly constructed exit was impossible for my body to slide through. I stuck my head into the darkened closet and immediately heard an imaginary Jack Nickolas shout, “ Here’s… Jenny! “ My pounding continued and intensified until my twisted body wormed through my new masterpiece. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, I emerged after spending 16 hours trapped in my bathroom and was met with both a tail-wagging Louie and my son Anthony’s ringtone. It was 10:27 a.m. “Hel…lo,” I gasped. “Why are you out of breath, Mom?” he replied.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Getting Stuck and Being Resourceful With Cerebral Palsy

I am a woman whose basic intelligence is questioned whenever I leave the comfort of home. Cerebral palsy is the culprit. “Accidents” seldom happen to me – at least that’s the message I’ve received throughout my 57 years of stares. I am not afforded the kindness others receive to simply bumble a stack of notes or have a wet, slippery jar fall from my grasp. Meticulous forethought precedes most actions I take in an effort to avoid such judgment. Now that I have set the scene, on with my tale. I just wanted yesterday to end. My 16-year-old pug, Athena, reached the next realm. Louie, my toddler Maltipoo, knew something was “off” when I returned home without her. I had spent three sleepless nights mulling over the decision to let her go. I barely slept while she wandered aimlessly around the house, clacking her claws against the floor’s wooden planks with the occasional grunt. Her stomach was weak and refused to keep anything down. I prepared for bed so I could sleep away some of my sadness in my sun-filled room. The nightstand clock displayed “6:38 p.m.” as I meandered towards the ensuite bathroom. I grabbed the TV remote from the foot of the bed, tuning into QVC background noise to minimize Louie’s “reactive-to-strange-sounds” barking. He had darted across my path before jumping into bed to await my return while I continued towards the sink. I went to dry my dewy, washed face with the towel hanging behind the bathroom door. I had removed the doorknob a while back due to its stiffness and recently had reinstalled it when listing my house for sale. It remained difficult to open. I never closed the door to avoid the dexterity and strength challenge of opening it. Pent-up emotion surfaced. I leaned into the towel in a bereaved, dazed moment. The door shut. Rapid, short breaths replaced my budding sobs. “ You’re OK, Jen. The knob is stiff, but it will open.” 10 minutes of frantic knob twisting ensued – and failed. “ Oh, shit! There’s no way out!” My son, Anthony, had flown in for a visit to say his goodbyes to Athena. He had left two days ago — and no one was expected to come over anytime soon. Nobody was coming to help me. I pillaged the room’s “escape” resources — nail clippers, blow dryer, towel rods, soap, and green-handled floss. “ C’mon, MacGyver instincts. Kick in!” I prayed to my guardian angels for guidance and strength. The bathroom’s garden window above the tub was built not to open. I tried to smash it with the blow dryer. No luck. Towel rod strikes on the door failed too. I mustered up my anger and hauled off to break down the door. Nope — it didn’t work! When night fell, I sporadically started turning the bathroom light on and off in hopes to catch a neighbor’s attention. I made countless attempts to open the door with a pair of outstretched nail clippers as I had seen portrayed decades ago on 70s detective shows – except Starsky and Hutch used a plastic credit card to slide past the lip of the door. The clipper snipped the skin on my hand whenever the door seemed close to opening. I wrapped a Band-Aid around my skin to avoid further damage. However, it did not prevent blisters from forming. My effort with the floss handles also proved moot. “ Damn! There’s no way I’m getting out of here if I injure my hands.” I turned off the light and laid down whenever hot sweat rolled into my eyes. I drank from the sink’s faucet to rehydrate knowing that my most important resource — my strength — was limited. Cerebral palsy requires me to eat protein every few hours to maintain energy — and I didn’t have any food with me. Stillness allowed whispers to creep into my mind. “ There’s no way out. After all the hell I’ve gone through in this life, I’ll starve to death?” Louie’s whimpers interrupted my episode of nonsensical thoughts. “I’m here, Louie.” My fingers struggled beneath the door to feel his warm licks. “I p’omise I’ll get out of here soon, Lou. I p’omise.” Another round of clipper-probing, window-banging, and light-flickering commenced — with no success. It was the first of at least twelve more rounds. Honestly, I lost count. Morning sunlight filtered into the room as I laid on my makeshift towel-bed. I knew that it must be nearing 6:00 a.m. QVC’s Alberti’s faint laughter floated into the room. Did I fall asleep? The remaining hanging towel rod caught my eye when I gazed upward. There are tiny screw holes in the wall that hold it up. I was engulfed in hope as I dismantled the rod and started to chip away the plaster with one of its screws. “ Please… don’t be pipes in the wall!” My anticipatory strength took hold. I pounded the plaster with the blow dryer once the hole was large enough. There were no pipes! To prevent further blistering, I wrapped the dryer’s handle with a pink T-shirt that I had previously carelessly left on the floor. HGTV stars’ voices bantered “Demo day!” in my head as I increased my strength with each strike. Burning sweat dripped into my eyes, down the back of my legs, and everywhere else. “ Slow down, Jen! You know you’re getting out of here. Take your time.” I regained strength with intermittent sits on the ceramic throne’s lid. “ Get up! Let’s do this.” I continued pounding. I was then met with what seemed to be wall-spanned, hard cardboard. “ Damn! There’s more?” Once I got through the brown plank, I found a second wall. “ Don’t cry now. You’ve got this!” I commenced the screw-picking once again. Hours later, escape loomed. The newly constructed exit was impossible for my body to slide through. I stuck my head into the darkened closet and immediately heard an imaginary Jack Nickolas shout, “ Here’s… Jenny! “ My pounding continued and intensified until my twisted body wormed through my new masterpiece. Like a butterfly from a cocoon, I emerged after spending 16 hours trapped in my bathroom and was met with both a tail-wagging Louie and my son Anthony’s ringtone. It was 10:27 a.m. “Hel…lo,” I gasped. “Why are you out of breath, Mom?” he replied.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy in the 1960s

In the midst of tremendous cultural shifts during the 1960s, I was a youngster often recovering from experimental surgeries and struggling to understand why I was “different.” On my family’s 12-inch black and white TV I witnessed people gathered together speaking out against injustices surrounding race, gender, sexual orientation and class struggles. But I didn’t see people like me displayed on the evening news. Since the late 1800s, most people born with disabilities in Europe and the United States were “properly shunned” – housed in institutions. Such facilities were for the most part located on undeveloped parcels of land and rarely seen by local residents. They were “out of sight, out of mind.” Individuals – many placed as babies – were put away under the guise of it being “for their own good and the good of society” and regarded as second-class citizens. Many with physical disabilities acquired cognitive delays due to lack of environmental stimulation. Societal attitudes propelled a sub-standard segregated life and furthered stigmatization. World War II had ended two decades earlier and remained in the world’s rearview mirror. Millions of Jews and “others” were murdered in the name of eugenics, an attempt to create superior humans in a twisted misinterpretation of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” The “others” included people living in private and state-operated institutions, identified under Nazi policies as “life unworthy of life.” Individuals with congenital, cognitive and physical disabilities (including people termed in the 20th century as “feebleminded” – people with mental illness, epilepsy, deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy) for elimination from the chain of heredity. My young self was ignorant of these horrid events and yet mindful of other’s perceptions. My pre-school-aged memories are filled with “Why do you talk that way?” or “How come you walk funny?” — comments I heard whenever I stepped out my front door and into the world. A “stiff upper lip” persona took shape inside of me. My childhood naiveté vanished like smoke from an extinguished candle’s wick. Adults interrogated my mom with similar questions. They spoke over me as if I wasn’t there. Mom’s attempt to shield her baby girl against implicit discrimination often failed. She made valiant efforts to protect me from the perpetual dreaded question, “What’s wrong with you?” dipped in a thick “ooh.” It reeked with flashing red lights. There was no mistaking the underlying message. “You don’t belong.” I didn’t belong. Strangers’ stares and words cloaked me in shame. “I have cereb’a pal’y,” I replied, delivered with a meek smile. “I know, I tal’ funny. I ‘ound ‘illy.” I followed it with my trademark snicker. If I can make them laugh, they will feel some ease — and know that I’m fully aware. It gave me a slightly opened door to enter, a chance to connect. How I longed to belong. In addition to receiving instruction and therapies (presently known as “early intervention”), my “special school” provided a sense of belonging. I shared an incomprehensible bond with my classmates. “Different.” The politest label people beyond the school’s grounds considered us. Kids who were not my classmates laughed when they met me. Shouts of “retarded” or “Frankenstein” often hit my ears. Their word’s power shook my already precarious balance. Frankenstein referenced my walk. I walked with my arms held up towards the sides of my chest. My hands pointed towards the ground. This stance assisted with balance as I staggered on tip-toes turned inward. Oh, how I longed to be like everyone else. By first grade I had decided my experiences at the other end of strangers’ voyeuristic looks and labels weren’t worth sharing with Mom and Dad. The fear on their faces when expressing such encounters pierced me. Dad’s fear disguised behind familiar splashes of disgust reinforced the ridicule I felt. Mom, on the other hand, delivered a well-pat response. “Some people are ignorant, Jen. Your purpose in life is to educate them.” Her strong words clung to my brain. These words developed into my life’s mantra. On a ride home from school one day, my bus idled at a busy intersection. A mother and her young daughter caught my eye at the corner gas station. The girl appeared to be 5 or 6 years old — close to my age. They giggled as they ran around their car. My onlooker smile turned to tears before the green light signaled the bus driver to proceed. I yearned to run carefree, to play without hearing Dad’s voice — with or without him present — saying, “Be careful, Jen. You’re going to fall.” Our school bus rolled forward and struggled into gear. I strained my neck to retain the girl and her mother in my sight. “What are you looking at?” the boy seated behind me snickered, laughing as he noticed the tears streaming down my cheeks. “Why are you crying?” “It’s nothin’.” I turned away in embarrassment. “Where do I fit?” ran through my mind. That is my first memory of attempting to process “being different” as Mom said. To Mom’s credit, “different” was a palliative term. I never heard “disability” throughout childhood. The word was not a part of the societal vocabulary. “Crippled,” “impaired,” “handicapped” and “retarded” graced our country’s vernacular, on the rare occasions such discussions occurred at all. Throughout the 1960s and into the ‘70s, our culture gave little thought, let alone consideration to persons with disabilities. Segregation of children and adults with disabilities continued. For those not living in institutions like me, buses drove us each weekday far from our homes and the neighborhood schools we wished to attend. Up with a stuffy nose one night, I snuggled with Mom on our couch. The lights were off and the TV’s volume was set low so as not to disturb Dad’s sleep. “Who’ t’at?” I sprang from a near sleep. “Oh. That’s Ironside.” “Iron’ide? What’ his name?” My interest peaked as I raised my head from Mom’s chest. “They let him be a cop?” “He’s a detective.” She seemed unaware of my question’s motivation. “Wow! Dete’ive. What happen’ to ‘em?” “Happened to him?” She whispered in a thicker-than-usual Kentucky accent from nearing sleep. “Why he’ in a wheelchai’?” “Oh!” Mom shook awake from her respite. “Somebody shot ‘em. He can’t walk no more.” She whispered. “He coul’ wa’k before? T’at’ ‘ad.” I was struggling to whisper so as not to wake Dad. I hoped my words had reached Mom’s ear. “Yeah, it’s sad. But remember, Jen. TV’s not real. It’s actin’.” “Oh, yeah. So he can wal’ in ‘eal life. ‘ight?” “Yeah. His real name’s Raymond Burr.” In my 5-year-old’s wonderment, I thought only kids were “different.” Raymond Burr on “Ironside” was the first adult I ever saw who was “different.” My excitement to learn more about the man on the screen — and the budding identity of “me” taking root — gave way to the night’s silence.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

School Inclusion for Students With Disabilities in the 1970s

In 1972, a U.S. Congressional investigation led by the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped found that the country had 8 million children requiring special education services. Of this total, less than half — 3.9 million students — received an adequate education. The research revealed that 1.75 million children with disabilities were receiving no education. Another 200,000 were institutionalized. An additional 2.5 million were receiving a substandard education. In 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was signed into law: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall, solely on the basis of his handicap, be excluded from the participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Section 504 is known as the United States’ first federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Its language built upon previous civil rights laws that protected women and minorities. It recognized that society has historically treated people with disabilities as second-class citizens based on deeply held fears and stereotypes held for over a century. In essence, the law stated that no program receiving federal funds could discriminate against a person with a disability. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act with the goal of remedying the serious educational inequalities represented by the ’72 Congressional investigation. The central principle of the act mandated that all states receiving federal education funding must create a “policy that assures all handicapped children the right to a free appropriate public education.” In addition, the act stipulated that all such students must undergo an individual evaluation leading to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) designed to create a personalized plan to best fit the educational needs of each student. The act required they be integrated into regular classrooms to the greatest degree possible, while placed in the least restrictive environment and granted access to services they would need. Oblivious to the laws and social movements, in June of ’72, I was a 7-year-old girl completing my fifth year as a Harlan Shoemaker student. My educational career had started when I was 2 years old, when I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Located in San Pedro, California, Harlan Shoemaker was the “Special Education School for the Handicapped” in Los Angeles County, providing therapies (now known as Early Intervention) as well as academic instruction to “special students” from Pre-K through 12th grade. The previous year, I was a first-grader who often sat in a circle with classmates learning to read with “Dick and Jane.” Always eager to please my teacher Mrs. Jackson, my hand was often raised to read aloud. “See Spot run.” One seemingly routine day, Mrs. Jackson called the teacher over who taught in the classroom across the hall to look at my work. My teacher gave her the “Two, Too, and To” assignment I had just completed. They huddled in the corner for a few minutes, whispering so as to not disturb the students who continued on with the task. They called me into the hallway. Mrs. Jackson asked how I finished the 10-question assignment in 30 seconds. Uh oh… I’m in trouble. How do they know I didn’t read the questions? The teachers towered over me. I stood between them and worried that my decision to rush through the assignment was not going to turn out well. “We would like to know how you completed this assignment.” Mrs. Jackson asked. I explained that there were two sizes of “fill-in” blanks. In the larger blanks, I wrote “Two” if numbers were in the question. If no numbers were in the question, I wrote “too.” Then for the smaller blanks, I wrote “to” since it was the only small word. Since I hadn’t read the questions, I braced to hear that all my answers were incorrect. My eyes darted towards the brown carpeted floor as I feared my teacher’s next words.“Jennifer. Your answers are all correct.” Mrs. Jackson said with an eager smile. “We wanted to know how you did it!” Whew… that was a close one! The following week, my promotion to second grade had commenced. Mom received a call from my physical therapist later in the week. She informed Mom of a search in progress. A search for two children who might benefit from an experimental surgery. They wanted one boy and one girl, children who displayed academic promise. Mom and Dad discussed the opportunity with me while trying to explain “experimental.” They asked if I wanted the surgery.“Yes!” I squealed without hesitation. Surgery and hospital costs came to tens of thousands of dollars, a bill that would have been impossible for my family to pay. I will forever be grateful to the Los Angeles Crippled Children’s Society and all of the other donors. Our family’s expenses totaled $150. The surgeon operated on the left hip first. CP had impacted my left side more than the right. I spent eight weeks imprisoned in a heavy body cast that started above my belly button, extending down to my toes. I could not move without help — not even scoot. An embarrassing bedpan tended by Mom or Dad became my bathroom. A year and a half passed before the next surgery. Not eager the morning of the operation, I rubbed my unblemished thigh. Soon there would be a pink puffy foot-long incision to match the left thigh. I fought tears with all my might. In the autumn of 1973, I completed rehab for the second time. Both surgeries were successful. I no longer walked on tiptoes with my arms held in the air for balance. The walk often mocked as “Frankenstein” by my able-bodied peers retired to a noticeable gait. A few months had passed when my yearly physical with the school district’s physician was scheduled with Dr. Morris. “Jennifer has surpassed all of our expectations.” She told Mom. “With the surgeries’ success along with her improved speech from years of therapy, she’s ready to be ‘mainstreamed’ into regular school.” “You really think so?” Mom wiped away her tears. “Remaining at Shoemaker will just hold her back.” “Can I… Mom? P’ease!” My excitement grew. “It will be a political move on my part advocating for Jen to leave this school to attend regular public school.” Dr. Morris continued. “The process may take over a year before being given consideration.” She encouraged my family to consider this possibility before she took the risk. “I am planning to leave the school district. I will stay another year to help Jen if you decide to pursue the transition.” When Mom and Dad asked if I wanted to go to regular school, “Are you kiddin’?” spewed from my mouth. “I alway’ wanted to go to Broad Avenue. It’s right down the st’eet.” “Kids will laugh at you.” Dad warned. “Can you handle that?” “Ye’, yes. I can hand’ it.” “You need to be sure. You need to be tough.” Dr. Morris advocated for a year before my chance materialized. Both schools voiced concern. One did not want to release me because of state monies. The other did not want to accept me out of fear that my attendance would create confusion for their students. The challenges mounted with time. The overarching concern that appeared to crush all hopes came with a label. An assessment conducted by a school district’s psychologist, a pre-requisite for transition consideration anointed me with a classification that baffled everyone. I had seen the school psychologist in the hallways over the years but had never met her. During our meetings, she asked questions from several booklets. I completed many short tests over the next few days. Some were simple. Other tests included timed puzzles that I did not complete in part due to an annoying white, big-dialed timer that stood at the table’s edge. My spasticity increased with each second’s tick. The psychologist submitted her findings in a long-awaited assessment report to “The Powers That Be.” Individuals working for the Los Angeles School District who had not — and never would meet me — determined my future life’s direction. The school psychologist’s assessment report read, “I.Q. fell within “Retardation Range.” “Retardation.” The one label I had fought against with all my might since I could remember. My world shattered. A doctor believes I’m “retarded.” How could this be? Mom and I attended an impromptu school meeting. To my surprise, every teacher who had taught me since pre-school, speech and physical therapists who provided me with life-altering exercises for more than half a decade and Dr. Morris sat around a large circular table as Mom and I walked into the meeting. Their support brought me to tears. The emotion caught me by surprise and attempts to contain it only magnified my body’s uncontrolled twists. My face flushed with embarrassment. “We all know how capable and smart this little girl is.” The doctor stated. “We need to explain Jen’s timed-test findings found in Dr. Slater’s assessment.”I sat quietly as I listened to the educators and health care providers around the table. Mom sat silent except for her occasional head nod in agreement accompanied with “Yes” or “um-hum.” “OK, then.” Dr. Morris summarized prior to the meeting’s end. “Each one of us will write a letter to support Jen’s transition. Send the letters to my office and I will submit a packet to the school district.” In the summer of ’74 I was granted a “trial run.” Broad Avenue was the nearest public elementary school, and the school I had dreamt of attending since forever. Classmate’s snickers challenged my ability to hide any resemblance of sadness or frustration. Aware that my behavior was under scrutiny equally to – if not more than grades earned – I swallowed my emotions. I must pass their test. In the fall of ’74 I became Broad Avenue’s newest fifth grader. The promotion from first grade was erased. My peeved pride paled to the excitement of attending the school across the street from home. My admittance into regular school came just months before the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. I attended Broad Avenue and other schools throughout high school graduation without an IEP or academic accommodations. The challenges were many, from a teacher who graded me down one letter grade on each assignment/exam for “poor penmanship” to often running out of time on essay exams. I felt pressure to “ace” whatever portion I was able to complete on exams to maintain an acceptable high school GPA for college admittance. I experienced teasing and ridicule from new classmates at the start of every school year. I felt compelled to explain “me” with every new person who entered my life. I felt a continued urgency to prove I belonged. In general, students with disabilities attending “regular school” after 1975 have done so according to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. With best intentions for equal access to education, students were often placed into segregated and far removed classrooms such as in trailers on the perimeter of K-12 public schools with less-than-rigorous curricula. In 1990, the Act was reauthorized and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The evolution for inclusion of students with disabilities within public schools continues today.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

School Inclusion for Students With Disabilities in the 1970s

In 1972, a U.S. Congressional investigation led by the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped found that the country had 8 million children requiring special education services. Of this total, less than half — 3.9 million students — received an adequate education. The research revealed that 1.75 million children with disabilities were receiving no education. Another 200,000 were institutionalized. An additional 2.5 million were receiving a substandard education. In 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was signed into law: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall, solely on the basis of his handicap, be excluded from the participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Section 504 is known as the United States’ first federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Its language built upon previous civil rights laws that protected women and minorities. It recognized that society has historically treated people with disabilities as second-class citizens based on deeply held fears and stereotypes held for over a century. In essence, the law stated that no program receiving federal funds could discriminate against a person with a disability. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act with the goal of remedying the serious educational inequalities represented by the ’72 Congressional investigation. The central principle of the act mandated that all states receiving federal education funding must create a “policy that assures all handicapped children the right to a free appropriate public education.” In addition, the act stipulated that all such students must undergo an individual evaluation leading to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) designed to create a personalized plan to best fit the educational needs of each student. The act required they be integrated into regular classrooms to the greatest degree possible, while placed in the least restrictive environment and granted access to services they would need. Oblivious to the laws and social movements, in June of ’72, I was a 7-year-old girl completing my fifth year as a Harlan Shoemaker student. My educational career had started when I was 2 years old, when I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Located in San Pedro, California, Harlan Shoemaker was the “Special Education School for the Handicapped” in Los Angeles County, providing therapies (now known as Early Intervention) as well as academic instruction to “special students” from Pre-K through 12th grade. The previous year, I was a first-grader who often sat in a circle with classmates learning to read with “Dick and Jane.” Always eager to please my teacher Mrs. Jackson, my hand was often raised to read aloud. “See Spot run.” One seemingly routine day, Mrs. Jackson called the teacher over who taught in the classroom across the hall to look at my work. My teacher gave her the “Two, Too, and To” assignment I had just completed. They huddled in the corner for a few minutes, whispering so as to not disturb the students who continued on with the task. They called me into the hallway. Mrs. Jackson asked how I finished the 10-question assignment in 30 seconds. Uh oh… I’m in trouble. How do they know I didn’t read the questions? The teachers towered over me. I stood between them and worried that my decision to rush through the assignment was not going to turn out well. “We would like to know how you completed this assignment.” Mrs. Jackson asked. I explained that there were two sizes of “fill-in” blanks. In the larger blanks, I wrote “Two” if numbers were in the question. If no numbers were in the question, I wrote “too.” Then for the smaller blanks, I wrote “to” since it was the only small word. Since I hadn’t read the questions, I braced to hear that all my answers were incorrect. My eyes darted towards the brown carpeted floor as I feared my teacher’s next words.“Jennifer. Your answers are all correct.” Mrs. Jackson said with an eager smile. “We wanted to know how you did it!” Whew… that was a close one! The following week, my promotion to second grade had commenced. Mom received a call from my physical therapist later in the week. She informed Mom of a search in progress. A search for two children who might benefit from an experimental surgery. They wanted one boy and one girl, children who displayed academic promise. Mom and Dad discussed the opportunity with me while trying to explain “experimental.” They asked if I wanted the surgery.“Yes!” I squealed without hesitation. Surgery and hospital costs came to tens of thousands of dollars, a bill that would have been impossible for my family to pay. I will forever be grateful to the Los Angeles Crippled Children’s Society and all of the other donors. Our family’s expenses totaled $150. The surgeon operated on the left hip first. CP had impacted my left side more than the right. I spent eight weeks imprisoned in a heavy body cast that started above my belly button, extending down to my toes. I could not move without help — not even scoot. An embarrassing bedpan tended by Mom or Dad became my bathroom. A year and a half passed before the next surgery. Not eager the morning of the operation, I rubbed my unblemished thigh. Soon there would be a pink puffy foot-long incision to match the left thigh. I fought tears with all my might. In the autumn of 1973, I completed rehab for the second time. Both surgeries were successful. I no longer walked on tiptoes with my arms held in the air for balance. The walk often mocked as “Frankenstein” by my able-bodied peers retired to a noticeable gait. A few months had passed when my yearly physical with the school district’s physician was scheduled with Dr. Morris. “Jennifer has surpassed all of our expectations.” She told Mom. “With the surgeries’ success along with her improved speech from years of therapy, she’s ready to be ‘mainstreamed’ into regular school.” “You really think so?” Mom wiped away her tears. “Remaining at Shoemaker will just hold her back.” “Can I… Mom? P’ease!” My excitement grew. “It will be a political move on my part advocating for Jen to leave this school to attend regular public school.” Dr. Morris continued. “The process may take over a year before being given consideration.” She encouraged my family to consider this possibility before she took the risk. “I am planning to leave the school district. I will stay another year to help Jen if you decide to pursue the transition.” When Mom and Dad asked if I wanted to go to regular school, “Are you kiddin’?” spewed from my mouth. “I alway’ wanted to go to Broad Avenue. It’s right down the st’eet.” “Kids will laugh at you.” Dad warned. “Can you handle that?” “Ye’, yes. I can hand’ it.” “You need to be sure. You need to be tough.” Dr. Morris advocated for a year before my chance materialized. Both schools voiced concern. One did not want to release me because of state monies. The other did not want to accept me out of fear that my attendance would create confusion for their students. The challenges mounted with time. The overarching concern that appeared to crush all hopes came with a label. An assessment conducted by a school district’s psychologist, a pre-requisite for transition consideration anointed me with a classification that baffled everyone. I had seen the school psychologist in the hallways over the years but had never met her. During our meetings, she asked questions from several booklets. I completed many short tests over the next few days. Some were simple. Other tests included timed puzzles that I did not complete in part due to an annoying white, big-dialed timer that stood at the table’s edge. My spasticity increased with each second’s tick. The psychologist submitted her findings in a long-awaited assessment report to “The Powers That Be.” Individuals working for the Los Angeles School District who had not — and never would meet me — determined my future life’s direction. The school psychologist’s assessment report read, “I.Q. fell within “Retardation Range.” “Retardation.” The one label I had fought against with all my might since I could remember. My world shattered. A doctor believes I’m “retarded.” How could this be? Mom and I attended an impromptu school meeting. To my surprise, every teacher who had taught me since pre-school, speech and physical therapists who provided me with life-altering exercises for more than half a decade and Dr. Morris sat around a large circular table as Mom and I walked into the meeting. Their support brought me to tears. The emotion caught me by surprise and attempts to contain it only magnified my body’s uncontrolled twists. My face flushed with embarrassment. “We all know how capable and smart this little girl is.” The doctor stated. “We need to explain Jen’s timed-test findings found in Dr. Slater’s assessment.”I sat quietly as I listened to the educators and health care providers around the table. Mom sat silent except for her occasional head nod in agreement accompanied with “Yes” or “um-hum.” “OK, then.” Dr. Morris summarized prior to the meeting’s end. “Each one of us will write a letter to support Jen’s transition. Send the letters to my office and I will submit a packet to the school district.” In the summer of ’74 I was granted a “trial run.” Broad Avenue was the nearest public elementary school, and the school I had dreamt of attending since forever. Classmate’s snickers challenged my ability to hide any resemblance of sadness or frustration. Aware that my behavior was under scrutiny equally to – if not more than grades earned – I swallowed my emotions. I must pass their test. In the fall of ’74 I became Broad Avenue’s newest fifth grader. The promotion from first grade was erased. My peeved pride paled to the excitement of attending the school across the street from home. My admittance into regular school came just months before the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. I attended Broad Avenue and other schools throughout high school graduation without an IEP or academic accommodations. The challenges were many, from a teacher who graded me down one letter grade on each assignment/exam for “poor penmanship” to often running out of time on essay exams. I felt pressure to “ace” whatever portion I was able to complete on exams to maintain an acceptable high school GPA for college admittance. I experienced teasing and ridicule from new classmates at the start of every school year. I felt compelled to explain “me” with every new person who entered my life. I felt a continued urgency to prove I belonged. In general, students with disabilities attending “regular school” after 1975 have done so according to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. With best intentions for equal access to education, students were often placed into segregated and far removed classrooms such as in trailers on the perimeter of K-12 public schools with less-than-rigorous curricula. In 1990, the Act was reauthorized and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The evolution for inclusion of students with disabilities within public schools continues today.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy in the 1960s

In the midst of tremendous cultural shifts during the 1960s, I was a youngster often recovering from experimental surgeries and struggling to understand why I was “different.” On my family’s 12-inch black and white TV I witnessed people gathered together speaking out against injustices surrounding race, gender, sexual orientation and class struggles. But I didn’t see people like me displayed on the evening news. Since the late 1800s, most people born with disabilities in Europe and the United States were “properly shunned” – housed in institutions. Such facilities were for the most part located on undeveloped parcels of land and rarely seen by local residents. They were “out of sight, out of mind.” Individuals – many placed as babies – were put away under the guise of it being “for their own good and the good of society” and regarded as second-class citizens. Many with physical disabilities acquired cognitive delays due to lack of environmental stimulation. Societal attitudes propelled a sub-standard segregated life and furthered stigmatization. World War II had ended two decades earlier and remained in the world’s rearview mirror. Millions of Jews and “others” were murdered in the name of eugenics, an attempt to create superior humans in a twisted misinterpretation of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” The “others” included people living in private and state-operated institutions, identified under Nazi policies as “life unworthy of life.” Individuals with congenital, cognitive and physical disabilities (including people termed in the 20th century as “feebleminded” – people with mental illness, epilepsy, deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy) for elimination from the chain of heredity. My young self was ignorant of these horrid events and yet mindful of other’s perceptions. My pre-school-aged memories are filled with “Why do you talk that way?” or “How come you walk funny?” — comments I heard whenever I stepped out my front door and into the world. A “stiff upper lip” persona took shape inside of me. My childhood naiveté vanished like smoke from an extinguished candle’s wick. Adults interrogated my mom with similar questions. They spoke over me as if I wasn’t there. Mom’s attempt to shield her baby girl against implicit discrimination often failed. She made valiant efforts to protect me from the perpetual dreaded question, “What’s wrong with you?” dipped in a thick “ooh.” It reeked with flashing red lights. There was no mistaking the underlying message. “You don’t belong.” I didn’t belong. Strangers’ stares and words cloaked me in shame. “I have cereb’a pal’y,” I replied, delivered with a meek smile. “I know, I tal’ funny. I ‘ound ‘illy.” I followed it with my trademark snicker. If I can make them laugh, they will feel some ease — and know that I’m fully aware. It gave me a slightly opened door to enter, a chance to connect. How I longed to belong. In addition to receiving instruction and therapies (presently known as “early intervention”), my “special school” provided a sense of belonging. I shared an incomprehensible bond with my classmates. “Different.” The politest label people beyond the school’s grounds considered us. Kids who were not my classmates laughed when they met me. Shouts of “retarded” or “Frankenstein” often hit my ears. Their word’s power shook my already precarious balance. Frankenstein referenced my walk. I walked with my arms held up towards the sides of my chest. My hands pointed towards the ground. This stance assisted with balance as I staggered on tip-toes turned inward. Oh, how I longed to be like everyone else. By first grade I had decided my experiences at the other end of strangers’ voyeuristic looks and labels weren’t worth sharing with Mom and Dad. The fear on their faces when expressing such encounters pierced me. Dad’s fear disguised behind familiar splashes of disgust reinforced the ridicule I felt. Mom, on the other hand, delivered a well-pat response. “Some people are ignorant, Jen. Your purpose in life is to educate them.” Her strong words clung to my brain. These words developed into my life’s mantra. On a ride home from school one day, my bus idled at a busy intersection. A mother and her young daughter caught my eye at the corner gas station. The girl appeared to be 5 or 6 years old — close to my age. They giggled as they ran around their car. My onlooker smile turned to tears before the green light signaled the bus driver to proceed. I yearned to run carefree, to play without hearing Dad’s voice — with or without him present — saying, “Be careful, Jen. You’re going to fall.” Our school bus rolled forward and struggled into gear. I strained my neck to retain the girl and her mother in my sight. “What are you looking at?” the boy seated behind me snickered, laughing as he noticed the tears streaming down my cheeks. “Why are you crying?” “It’s nothin’.” I turned away in embarrassment. “Where do I fit?” ran through my mind. That is my first memory of attempting to process “being different” as Mom said. To Mom’s credit, “different” was a palliative term. I never heard “disability” throughout childhood. The word was not a part of the societal vocabulary. “Crippled,” “impaired,” “handicapped” and “retarded” graced our country’s vernacular, on the rare occasions such discussions occurred at all. Throughout the 1960s and into the ‘70s, our culture gave little thought, let alone consideration to persons with disabilities. Segregation of children and adults with disabilities continued. For those not living in institutions like me, buses drove us each weekday far from our homes and the neighborhood schools we wished to attend. Up with a stuffy nose one night, I snuggled with Mom on our couch. The lights were off and the TV’s volume was set low so as not to disturb Dad’s sleep. “Who’ t’at?” I sprang from a near sleep. “Oh. That’s Ironside.” “Iron’ide? What’ his name?” My interest peaked as I raised my head from Mom’s chest. “They let him be a cop?” “He’s a detective.” She seemed unaware of my question’s motivation. “Wow! Dete’ive. What happen’ to ‘em?” “Happened to him?” She whispered in a thicker-than-usual Kentucky accent from nearing sleep. “Why he’ in a wheelchai’?” “Oh!” Mom shook awake from her respite. “Somebody shot ‘em. He can’t walk no more.” She whispered. “He coul’ wa’k before? T’at’ ‘ad.” I was struggling to whisper so as not to wake Dad. I hoped my words had reached Mom’s ear. “Yeah, it’s sad. But remember, Jen. TV’s not real. It’s actin’.” “Oh, yeah. So he can wal’ in ‘eal life. ‘ight?” “Yeah. His real name’s Raymond Burr.” In my 5-year-old’s wonderment, I thought only kids were “different.” Raymond Burr on “Ironside” was the first adult I ever saw who was “different.” My excitement to learn more about the man on the screen — and the budding identity of “me” taking root — gave way to the night’s silence.

Dr. Jennifer Gibson

Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy in the 1960s

In the midst of tremendous cultural shifts during the 1960s, I was a youngster often recovering from experimental surgeries and struggling to understand why I was “different.” On my family’s 12-inch black and white TV I witnessed people gathered together speaking out against injustices surrounding race, gender, sexual orientation and class struggles. But I didn’t see people like me displayed on the evening news. Since the late 1800s, most people born with disabilities in Europe and the United States were “properly shunned” – housed in institutions. Such facilities were for the most part located on undeveloped parcels of land and rarely seen by local residents. They were “out of sight, out of mind.” Individuals – many placed as babies – were put away under the guise of it being “for their own good and the good of society” and regarded as second-class citizens. Many with physical disabilities acquired cognitive delays due to lack of environmental stimulation. Societal attitudes propelled a sub-standard segregated life and furthered stigmatization. World War II had ended two decades earlier and remained in the world’s rearview mirror. Millions of Jews and “others” were murdered in the name of eugenics, an attempt to create superior humans in a twisted misinterpretation of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” The “others” included people living in private and state-operated institutions, identified under Nazi policies as “life unworthy of life.” Individuals with congenital, cognitive and physical disabilities (including people termed in the 20th century as “feebleminded” – people with mental illness, epilepsy, deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy) for elimination from the chain of heredity. My young self was ignorant of these horrid events and yet mindful of other’s perceptions. My pre-school-aged memories are filled with “Why do you talk that way?” or “How come you walk funny?” — comments I heard whenever I stepped out my front door and into the world. A “stiff upper lip” persona took shape inside of me. My childhood naiveté vanished like smoke from an extinguished candle’s wick. Adults interrogated my mom with similar questions. They spoke over me as if I wasn’t there. Mom’s attempt to shield her baby girl against implicit discrimination often failed. She made valiant efforts to protect me from the perpetual dreaded question, “What’s wrong with you?” dipped in a thick “ooh.” It reeked with flashing red lights. There was no mistaking the underlying message. “You don’t belong.” I didn’t belong. Strangers’ stares and words cloaked me in shame. “I have cereb’a pal’y,” I replied, delivered with a meek smile. “I know, I tal’ funny. I ‘ound ‘illy.” I followed it with my trademark snicker. If I can make them laugh, they will feel some ease — and know that I’m fully aware. It gave me a slightly opened door to enter, a chance to connect. How I longed to belong. In addition to receiving instruction and therapies (presently known as “early intervention”), my “special school” provided a sense of belonging. I shared an incomprehensible bond with my classmates. “Different.” The politest label people beyond the school’s grounds considered us. Kids who were not my classmates laughed when they met me. Shouts of “retarded” or “Frankenstein” often hit my ears. Their word’s power shook my already precarious balance. Frankenstein referenced my walk. I walked with my arms held up towards the sides of my chest. My hands pointed towards the ground. This stance assisted with balance as I staggered on tip-toes turned inward. Oh, how I longed to be like everyone else. By first grade I had decided my experiences at the other end of strangers’ voyeuristic looks and labels weren’t worth sharing with Mom and Dad. The fear on their faces when expressing such encounters pierced me. Dad’s fear disguised behind familiar splashes of disgust reinforced the ridicule I felt. Mom, on the other hand, delivered a well-pat response. “Some people are ignorant, Jen. Your purpose in life is to educate them.” Her strong words clung to my brain. These words developed into my life’s mantra. On a ride home from school one day, my bus idled at a busy intersection. A mother and her young daughter caught my eye at the corner gas station. The girl appeared to be 5 or 6 years old — close to my age. They giggled as they ran around their car. My onlooker smile turned to tears before the green light signaled the bus driver to proceed. I yearned to run carefree, to play without hearing Dad’s voice — with or without him present — saying, “Be careful, Jen. You’re going to fall.” Our school bus rolled forward and struggled into gear. I strained my neck to retain the girl and her mother in my sight. “What are you looking at?” the boy seated behind me snickered, laughing as he noticed the tears streaming down my cheeks. “Why are you crying?” “It’s nothin’.” I turned away in embarrassment. “Where do I fit?” ran through my mind. That is my first memory of attempting to process “being different” as Mom said. To Mom’s credit, “different” was a palliative term. I never heard “disability” throughout childhood. The word was not a part of the societal vocabulary. “Crippled,” “impaired,” “handicapped” and “retarded” graced our country’s vernacular, on the rare occasions such discussions occurred at all. Throughout the 1960s and into the ‘70s, our culture gave little thought, let alone consideration to persons with disabilities. Segregation of children and adults with disabilities continued. For those not living in institutions like me, buses drove us each weekday far from our homes and the neighborhood schools we wished to attend. Up with a stuffy nose one night, I snuggled with Mom on our couch. The lights were off and the TV’s volume was set low so as not to disturb Dad’s sleep. “Who’ t’at?” I sprang from a near sleep. “Oh. That’s Ironside.” “Iron’ide? What’ his name?” My interest peaked as I raised my head from Mom’s chest. “They let him be a cop?” “He’s a detective.” She seemed unaware of my question’s motivation. “Wow! Dete’ive. What happen’ to ‘em?” “Happened to him?” She whispered in a thicker-than-usual Kentucky accent from nearing sleep. “Why he’ in a wheelchai’?” “Oh!” Mom shook awake from her respite. “Somebody shot ‘em. He can’t walk no more.” She whispered. “He coul’ wa’k before? T’at’ ‘ad.” I was struggling to whisper so as not to wake Dad. I hoped my words had reached Mom’s ear. “Yeah, it’s sad. But remember, Jen. TV’s not real. It’s actin’.” “Oh, yeah. So he can wal’ in ‘eal life. ‘ight?” “Yeah. His real name’s Raymond Burr.” In my 5-year-old’s wonderment, I thought only kids were “different.” Raymond Burr on “Ironside” was the first adult I ever saw who was “different.” My excitement to learn more about the man on the screen — and the budding identity of “me” taking root — gave way to the night’s silence.

Community Voices

Describe your 2019 in one word.

<p>Describe your 2019 in one word.</p>
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