My dad was a junior high school drama teacher for most of my childhood. In all of the schools he taught in, he would approach the special education teachers and ask them if any of their students wanted to be in his drama class. Most teachers didn’t have students interested, but every year, a few students would say yes. So I grew up seeing my father put on plays with students with special needs, and work them seamlessly into his plays, such as deaf students signing their lines right alongside not hard-of-hearing students.
He once had a student with cerebral palsy who had significant difficulty with speech and walking as an active participant in one of his plays, reciting his lines from a wheelchair with great difficulty, but with tremendous heart. Everyone cried at that performance.
It was the gestures of my father’s tremendous heart that made me understand from a very young age that there is no such thing as too small of an act of empowering people with special needs. My father’s efforts impressed entire classrooms of students who got to have the opportunity to work with other students with special needs and learn about patience and flexibility and talent and trust as an artist. And everyone who saw my father’s plays saw what that meant in action. And the parents of the students he taught with special needs got to see their child have an experience rarely open to them. Those moments of my childhood have stuck with me.
My thesis at UCLA focused on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in adolescents with a syndrome of mental retardation called Prader-Willi Syndrome. I chose to work with individuals with special needs as a graduate student specifically because my father set that example for me my entire life.
New Ventures is an organization that employs individuals with special needs to make their products. Above is a picture of me with one of the bags their company makes. They help place individuals with special needs in jobs that employ them with the extra support they might need and I commend the organizations who use New Ventures to hire these individuals. Here’s their website if you want to learn more about them.
I applaud companies that use the services of organizations like New Ventures. And I applaud those who work hard to make organizations like this take flight so that they can offer these services to the community.
Most importantly, I applaud those with special needs who take an active part in their communities and beyond. We have much to learn from each other, and it is not easy to be different and to constantly be viewed as less than. It is the partnership of organizations like New Ventures that make the world brighter; one person and one experience and one hand at a time.