Kara Melissa Sharp

@kara-sharp | contributor
Stay-at-home mama. Grad student. Writer. Advocate. Activist. Former international school teacher. Part-time optimist. Transplant Torontonian.
Kara Melissa Sharp

Seeing the World Through an Inclusion Lens

The term “inclusion lens” was recently brought to my attention. As a parent of a child with a disability, I have it. I’m always on the lookout for the accessible way to approach everything. As a sibling to a child with a disability, my daughter has it; noticing whether a shop is accessible or not determines whether we can go in. She once redesigned our previous home to be full of ramps, her own sketches and all. She’s 7. My husband has it, carrying our physically disabled son to the top of the play structure so he can be included in the game of pirates and mermaids with his sister and her friends. We live it every day. But we need folks that don’t live it to start using it. Let’s start at school. When I received two different field trip permission forms on the same day, each for different school-wide trips, I was confused. And then angry. I have two kids in an alternative public school. Alternative because they accept kids that don’t live in their catchment area (my daughter) and also partially integrate kids with physical disabilities (my son). It was one of only eight integrated programs in over 500 city public schools that could possibly accommodate both of my kids. Previously my son attended congregated sites for kids with physical disabilities and more recently my daughter started kindergarten at the school across the street. So we moved and I advocated for my kids to go to school together. It was not an easy process. Imagine my reaction when I received an all-school field trip form that only one kid came home with. And it was not the kid with the disability. When staff were confronted with not including the kids in the physical disability class, they defended themselves by stating that everyone was invited. No one was purposely left out. Teachers made their own choice for their classes whether to attend. But what they hadn’t done was view the trip through an inclusive lens when planning. Had they done that, all staff would have felt supported in taking their classrooms to the school-wide trip. What is an inclusive lens? A plan of action. Not a reaction. How do we make sure everyone can take part in this event? Can everyone get to the event? Is the location accessible? Do the activities have options to include those with physical disabilities? Do we have a backup plan if the schedule needs to change? Can we make sure everyone’s eating needs are accommodated? These are questions that would be answered when planning with an inclusive lens. Without that lens, responsibility for issues around accessibility, timing and transportation is shifted to the person working with the child with the disability. That’s not inclusive. When an educator views your child as the one person that is asking to be accommodated rather than seeing how to accommodate the group as a whole, that is not an inclusive lens. When an educator singles out one student, the one with the physical disability, and tells his peers they they are waiting for him to finish eating before they can start their event, that’s discrimination. Shaming and discriminating against the kid with a disability is not creating an atmosphere of inclusion. I advocated for my children to attend school together. I advocated for my son to be integrated into a “regular” grade five classroom. We were welcomed to a school that boasted of their inclusive environment. I thought we had entered a community that approached everything with an inclusive lens. But so far that hasn’t happened. Instead I find myself fighting for the kids in the physical disability class to be included on a schoolwide field trip. Instead I find myself sitting across from a teacher that clearly does not know my son, nor how he learns and what accommodations he needs, because she’s passed that off to his special education teacher. Now tell me, is that inclusion? I need others to take on that lens rather than responding after the fact. I need educators to stop telling me that they shouldn’t have to do something for one kid (mine) which could affect how they manage the rest of their class. That’s discrimination. I don’t doubt they would argue, but it is. My son has been singled out. His teachers don’t want to modify the way they do things to include everyone in the classroom. They do not use an inclusion lens. If my son’s teachers could see the world through an inclusion lens, as they should, I could be seen as an asset rather than an adversary.

Kara Melissa Sharp

Please Be Patient as My Son With a Disability Gets in His School Bus

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your compassionate smile as my son loads onto the bus on a lift that takes his wheelchair up. He smiles down at me as we wait for the driver to get on and then roll him in. You see us smiling and it’s contagious. Thank you for your wave as you acknowledge it’s OK for you to wait while the bus driver secures my son into his spot in the front, right behind the driver’s seat. It takes a few minutes while she attaches hooks and belts to make sure his wheelchair won’t budge. Thank you for staying put and waiting until the doors are shut, the flashing light is turned off and the bus drives slowly down our one-way street. Thank you for being the person to calm my anxieties as I send my son on an hour long bus ride to school. We live directly across the street from our neighborhood school, but our son rides a bus to a congregated school that accommodates children with varying disabilities and medical needs. This is his third year riding the bus and his longest commute yet, despite living only 20 minutes from the school.   I’m sure you can imagine that as a parent, it is difficult for me to send my son on the bus every morning and wait well after the final school bell rings across the street for him to arrive home. Even more so, this year with his sister now school age, being able to walk across the street to have lunch together at home. I railed against the commute for a long time. For a year, I visited schools to find one that could accommodate both of my kids. Not only do I strongly believe in inclusion, but I also want my kids to go to the same school. It’s not possible. Instead I wake my son up earlier than he needs to get up and we go through our routine while his sister is still sleeping. We put him on his bus, sometimes before I’ve even had time to eat breakfast. The bus comes during early morning drop-off when parents who are rushing to work drop their kids just outside our house, and rush off. I imagine your frustration at being stopped behind a school bus, lights flashing, lift out, slowly loading my son onto the bus. I imagine your stress building as he has disappears onto the bus but you are still waiting, not knowing the driver secures my son’s wheelchair in place. I am thankful for a driver who is so meticulous and takes her time to make sure if there was a collision, my son will be secure and safe in his chair. The drivers waiting behind her are not always patient. My own anxiety — already high because of my son’s long commute, worrying about whether he will have a seizure on the way to school — rises higher while I watch hands raise in exasperation and sometimes land on the horn. My anxiety rises as drivers ignore the law and speed around the bus. Never mind the possibility of a $400-2,000 fine and demerits on your license. My anxiety rises as a parent rolls down his window to shout at me about having to wait. My anxiety rises as I step onto the street, behind the bus, to keep the cars from passing while my son is vulnerable on the lift, four feet up, straight out from the side of the bus. My 5-year-old daughter understands the rules: don’t pass a bus that has its lights flashing. She holds her hands up in a stop motion to the drivers that start to creep by, too. I know we are all trying to get our kids to school on time, to make it to work on time. I appreciate the parents who have some patience and remember that we are both just doing the best we can and sometimes we aren’t in control of time or circumstances, and we just have to wait. And for the parents who find it difficult to wait behind my son’s bus, I want them to realize there is a 9-year-old boy getting on that bus. A boy who has to leave home very early and get home late. A boy who doesn’t get to come home for lunch like his sister does. A boy who will start to feel the anxiety his mama feels too, with each horn, honk or shout. A boy who can also feel the patience with each smile. Thank you for your patience. Even in those moments you don’t feel you have any left. Follow This Journey at Free as Trees. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by jarenwicklund

Kara Melissa Sharp

Please Be Patient as My Son With a Disability Gets in His School Bus

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your compassionate smile as my son loads onto the bus on a lift that takes his wheelchair up. He smiles down at me as we wait for the driver to get on and then roll him in. You see us smiling and it’s contagious. Thank you for your wave as you acknowledge it’s OK for you to wait while the bus driver secures my son into his spot in the front, right behind the driver’s seat. It takes a few minutes while she attaches hooks and belts to make sure his wheelchair won’t budge. Thank you for staying put and waiting until the doors are shut, the flashing light is turned off and the bus drives slowly down our one-way street. Thank you for being the person to calm my anxieties as I send my son on an hour long bus ride to school. We live directly across the street from our neighborhood school, but our son rides a bus to a congregated school that accommodates children with varying disabilities and medical needs. This is his third year riding the bus and his longest commute yet, despite living only 20 minutes from the school.   I’m sure you can imagine that as a parent, it is difficult for me to send my son on the bus every morning and wait well after the final school bell rings across the street for him to arrive home. Even more so, this year with his sister now school age, being able to walk across the street to have lunch together at home. I railed against the commute for a long time. For a year, I visited schools to find one that could accommodate both of my kids. Not only do I strongly believe in inclusion, but I also want my kids to go to the same school. It’s not possible. Instead I wake my son up earlier than he needs to get up and we go through our routine while his sister is still sleeping. We put him on his bus, sometimes before I’ve even had time to eat breakfast. The bus comes during early morning drop-off when parents who are rushing to work drop their kids just outside our house, and rush off. I imagine your frustration at being stopped behind a school bus, lights flashing, lift out, slowly loading my son onto the bus. I imagine your stress building as he has disappears onto the bus but you are still waiting, not knowing the driver secures my son’s wheelchair in place. I am thankful for a driver who is so meticulous and takes her time to make sure if there was a collision, my son will be secure and safe in his chair. The drivers waiting behind her are not always patient. My own anxiety — already high because of my son’s long commute, worrying about whether he will have a seizure on the way to school — rises higher while I watch hands raise in exasperation and sometimes land on the horn. My anxiety rises as drivers ignore the law and speed around the bus. Never mind the possibility of a $400-2,000 fine and demerits on your license. My anxiety rises as a parent rolls down his window to shout at me about having to wait. My anxiety rises as I step onto the street, behind the bus, to keep the cars from passing while my son is vulnerable on the lift, four feet up, straight out from the side of the bus. My 5-year-old daughter understands the rules: don’t pass a bus that has its lights flashing. She holds her hands up in a stop motion to the drivers that start to creep by, too. I know we are all trying to get our kids to school on time, to make it to work on time. I appreciate the parents who have some patience and remember that we are both just doing the best we can and sometimes we aren’t in control of time or circumstances, and we just have to wait. And for the parents who find it difficult to wait behind my son’s bus, I want them to realize there is a 9-year-old boy getting on that bus. A boy who has to leave home very early and get home late. A boy who doesn’t get to come home for lunch like his sister does. A boy who will start to feel the anxiety his mama feels too, with each horn, honk or shout. A boy who can also feel the patience with each smile. Thank you for your patience. Even in those moments you don’t feel you have any left. Follow This Journey at Free as Trees. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by jarenwicklund