American Public Schools Should Make Disability Awareness Programs Mandatory Curriculum

A new report by the National Council on Disability shows that disabled parents are more likely to lose custody of their children due to discrimination. The report finds that as many as 80% of people with intellectual or psychological disabilities lose custody of their children. Most of these cases result from a lack of understanding about disabilities. 

To prevent continued discrimination against disabled people, Americans need to include mandatory curriculum about disability issues in public schools the same way they talk about gender, racial, and ethnic issues.

According to University of Iowa history professor, Douglas Baynton, American scholars and educators discuss and teach gender, racial, and ethnic issues about inequality, but not issues relating to disability inequalities. As a result, many Americans are ignorant of the way disabled people live. 

The lack of understanding makes people see differences as inadequate. When an accommodation is needed, people view this different way of doing something as being incapable of performing the task.

But what they do not understand is that for the disabled, an accommodation is simply a different way of accomplishing the same task. In the case of parenting, Jenn Thomas — a 36-year-old mom who has cerebral palsy — explains that kids may have to do extra chores around the house and the parents may have to rely on a system of support from their friends and neighbors. But these accommodations do not imply that the parents are neglecting or maltreating their children as child welfare administrator, as Judith Schagrin, suggests.

This lack of awareness has led to problems in the economy and society. Child welfare agencies have to waste money on investigating cases just because of discrimination. With the fiscal cliff looming and social services already strapped for cash, these cases just place a heavier burden on taxpayer dollars. 

But a lack of understanding of disabilities in the American culture causes even more significant problems. The very children the law attempts to protect are the very ones that get hurt. Most of the time disabled parents accused of child abuse are not harming or endangering the lives of their children. Children end up getting damaged from being removed from their homes pending investigations and having to see their parents falsely accused of child abuse.

In more extreme cases of not understanding disabilities, disabled students have died. ABC World News Now reports how a special needs student was killed from cardiac arrest after school officials restrained him for not stopping to play basketball. The report says physical punishment is common for students with behavioral, psychological, developmental, and intellectual disabilities when acting out, but is not the way to go.

Physical punishment only aggravates the symptoms of the disability. If school administrators had a better understanding of disabilities, they would know that physical punishment only worsens the situation.

A public education program on disability issues could, however, improve the problems caused by a lack of awareness. Just like studies on gender, race, and ethnicity improved problems for these groups, so to can a mandatory public education on disability issues improve discrimination against disabled people.

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Jacinda Chan

Jacinda graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a dual bachelor's degree in rhetoric and political science. She is currently pursuing a masters in international criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. She is fluent in German. Since then, she has done various research and writing internships covering Turkish politics at the Diplomatic Courier, writing reports on legal systems in the Middle East, and researching the entire human rights history of Iran and Egypt. At the Levin Institute, she wrote news analysis about human rights in Latin America.

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