You’re ready. You’ve got your tickets, rented that formal attire, snagged a date, and nothing is stopping you from attending your senior prom!
Except, wait. You use a wheelchair, and you get to the event only to find that the party is on the second floor, and there’s no elevator. Or, you have autism, and the music is so loud you can hear it even in the bathroom. Or you are blind, and nothing is labeled in braille (what are you even eating, chicken wings? Frog legs?)
So, what is the solution? That’s right! Starting February 2018, you can attend “Night to Shine,” sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation: a special night for “Special Needs” youth to spend special time with their special friends! Aka, a private prom event where young adults with disabilities can spend time together without all those icky people without disabilities hanging around.
That sounds great, right?! After all, that’s exactly what inclusion means: segregating PWD from the rest of the world because they’re just too different.
What are the problems with the mentality behind this event? Let’s list ‘em:
- People with disabilities are not “special,” and neither are our needs. We want to go to school, hang out with our friends, spend too much money on prom prep, and dance awkwardly all night, just like everyone else!
- What kind of expectations or view does this set up for PWD? That we only belong with other PWD, that we can’t possibly relate to people without disabilities, and that everything we do must be “separate, but equal.”
- The idea behind this event is like offering to fix someone’s broken leg by building them a unicorn horn. It’s offering a solution that is useless at best and harmful at worst; it doesn’t address the root of the problem (ableism and societal barriers for PWD), and it seems to serve as a “feel-good” moment for people without disabilities who think that this is the best way to be helpful. For a better understanding of this last point, look up “inspiration porn” by Stella Young.
So, what can we do instead? Make events like prom accessible to absolutely everyone! Ask us what we need, include us in the planning process, utilize things like Universal Design (the design and composition of an environment allow it to be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability), or ensure at the very least that you remove the barriers that would stop us from accessing your event. All we want is the same thing everyone wants: to be listened to and included.
Written by Effy Francis, EQUIP Leader