What do you see when you picture a person with special needs? We see our sisters.
We are three teens from Palo Alto California, each of whom has a younger sister with special needs. Growing up in an area obsessed with academic achievement and accomplishment reinforced the concept that many people are clueless about the realities of those with special needs. Our sisters are not inadequate, they are simply different.
Here are 3 things we’d like you to know:
Don’t Stare: It is natural to stare at things that are unusual and out of the ordinary. However, staring only creates an environment that is uncomfortable for everyone. If you are curious, please ask polite questions. Asking questions intrinsically acknowledges the presence of those with special needs, and makes everybody involved feel more welcome and accepted.
Consider Your Lasting Impact: Snide looks and muted laughter is commonplace for those with special needs. Their uncontrollable tics, irregular speech patterns, or lack of typical social skills make them the easiest of targets. Some people assume that those with disabilities cannot comprehend that they are being teased, and therefore conclude that their cruel behavior is victimless. They do not view their actions as bullying, but think they are being funny in a manner that will not offend anyone. However, it is clear that even those with severe special needs can grasp they are being laughed at. We ask that you ponder your actions, and consider the effect you have had on the lives of not only the people with special needs, but the siblings and companions who are always within earshot.
- Don’t Feel Sorry for Us: There are undeniable hardships that accompany having a sibling with special needs, however there are also indisputable upsides that most people are blind to. Once people realize that we have a sibling with special needs, many inherently feel sympathetic. Unfortunately, their attempts to accommodate our feelings only put us in a more awkward situation as it bolsters the notion that people with special needs need us feeling sorry for them. Our sisters are so much more than their disabilities and deserve the respect given to any other person.
Rather than believing stereotypes about the disabled community, we hope our personal perspectives will help open your hearts and minds about how having a sister like ours really is “special.”
About Magical Bridge Foundation
Magical Bridge Foundation furthers the promise of Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground by advocating for and creating inclusive and innovative playgrounds in other communities. Led by Magical Bridge Playground founder and visionary, Olenka Villarreal, and co-founders Jill Asher and Kris Loew, the formation of Magical Bridge Foundation is responding to the global need for innovative and inclusive parks. We are pouring our seven years of research, fundraising, development, design, and construction strategies into building Magical Bridge Playgrounds across the nation.
If you are interested in bringing a Magical Bridge Playground to your community, kindly contact Olenka Villarreal at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jill Asher at email@example.com.