November 11, 2014

Jo Ann Simons

(credit: Cardinal Cushing Centers)

By: Jo Ann Simons

If it were not for Facebook, I would not be aware that Homecoming Kings and Queens are now synonymous with disability. Almost every day this high school football season, I have learned that another school is being lauded in social media, print and in broadcast for picking a king, queen and often both with a disability.

I wanted to know how widespread this practice has become- using Homecoming as a way to recognize students with disabilities. So i did a web search and let me tell you- it is happening.

These are feel good stories with smiling crowned faces and proud families. I know I would be pleased and proud if it were my child but it also makes me wonder if it is really inclusion. Do these moments propel our movement towards full acceptance, access to higher education and job opportunities for people with disabilities?

Is it happening for the right reasons or have typical kids decided they no longer hold on to becoming Homecoming King or Queen as a valued goal? Is it something to put on your college application? Does it matter? Is the status that was previously associated with this honor no longer relevant so it has been handed off to students with disabilities?

I don’t know the answer.

Full Disclosure-I went to a high school that did not have Homecoming or Homecoming King or Queen. We did have a winning football team and after we left for college, we came home for Thanksgiving and went to the football game- that was our homecoming. No crowns. No Homecoming Court and certainly no Kings and Queens. Only freezing outside in the New England weather to watch the game and gathering during the weekend at “The Spirit of 76″or “Maddie’s Sail Loft” (ok- there was a bar and alcohol involved but, it was during the brief period in the 1970’s when the drinking age was 18).

I never really understood the whole ritual of Homecoming pageantry.  Must be a regional thing because it’s not honored or celebrated in New England like it is in the rest of the county. I still don’t get what the criteria is besides winning a vote by students.

Mass Self Advocates Standing Strong Logo

So forgive me if I don’t embrace this concept fully because I prefer to tell you about what I witnessed two weeks ago. In a hotel in Massachusetts, the self-advocacy organization, Mass Advocates Standing Strong, welcomed 450 self-advocates to a conference planned and conducted by self-advocates for self-advocates. There was a little organized chaos at registration- every oversubscribed conference I have ever attended looks this way. There were no kings or queens but the recognition that people with disabilities have a voice in their lives and in their community and work to support people with disabilities to do so.

When my son was born, over 30 years ago, I did not expect I would be driving him to such a conference. I didn’t know that he was to become an advocate with a voice. The conference was filled with workshops that were going to assist him in dealing with bullying, making informed voting choices and being safe.

Every month they are in our State House expressing their support of bills that will protect people with disabilities, making sure they are afforded the same rights and privileges.

Among the 450 people, there were no kings or queens but, there was a hotel filled with strong, self-confident and educated people.

And I was proud for all the right reasons.