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Then and Now

IMG_8970Last week, Schuyler had the opportunity to get a peek into her father’s past when my high school football team came to town for a playoff game. I grew up out in west Texas, in a town where football was like a sanctioned religion. Remember the book, and later the movie, Friday Night Lights? It told the story of the 1988 Odessa Permian High School football team; I graduated from there in 1986. I wasn’t a football player (much to Coach Hudson’s sorrow), but I played in the marching band and was thus present at all the games. Going with me to see my school play again after all these years proved to be a lot of fun for Schuyler, who had also seen the movie and loved it. (She has something of a sports-related bloodlust that comes out now and again, perhaps a side effect of being born in hockey country.)

It was an interesting experience, and one that she really enjoyed. She cheered the team loudly, obsessed over my old class ring and my letter jacket (which has mysteriously shrunken over the years, for reasons I choose not to explore too closely) and asked lots of questions. I told her stories of what it was like for me when I was her age, albeit with the best parts left out, which is probably for the best. Being surrounded by fans and hearing the familiar songs and chants made it all seem not so far in the past.

When I think back to my high school years, there’s a significant difference between then and now. It’s a difference that matters, and one that I suspect most people my age might appreciate. When I was in high school, I knew a few people with physical disabilities, but absolutely none with developmental disabilities like Schuyler’s. To this day, I have no idea where they were even educated. I’m not going to suggest they were hidden away in some evil dungeon somewhere, eating bugs in the dark or whatever. For all I know, they were receiving a fine education, but they were elsewhere. And my own development as a human being suffered as a result.

Thinking back just thirty years, it’s amazing how many resources were absent, and how different society’s approach to inclusion and disability rights in general was at the time. Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was still a few years away, after all. It’s a little astonishin now to consider what a sea change those two laws really signaled. Their philosophies seem so simple now, and so hard to argue against. People with disabilities deserve the same access to public spaces services and employment opportunities as everyone else. Children with disabilities deserve a public education on par with that of their typical peers.

Hardly radical stuff, and yet in thinking back to my own high school years, I am again reminded that Schuyler’s world, as flawed and as harsh as it can be, is much more fair than the one I grew up in. It’s fun to help her imagine what it was like back in my days of youth. But honestly, the place she would have occupied among my peers wouldn’t have brought much benefit to her life. Or to ours, come to think of it. For Schuyler, nostalgia is best suited for old cars and funny haircuts and my atrocious taste in 80s music. She lives in a complicated world, but every day, a few more opportunities emerge. It’s happening slowly, painfully and inconsistently, but the world is changing. The life she can have now is richer than she can possibly appreciate. I take a great deal of comfort from that, particularly as I imagine what the future might just hold.

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