Advocating for special education and disability visibility is different from anything else I talk about as an activist. This has everything to do with my proximity to the issues of disability justice that have spanned my entire life. I’m a daughter to a disabled man and a parent to two disabled kids.
For two weeks now, I have been telling anyone who will listen that the imminent restructuring of our state’s education system will be bad for families like mine, and doing that has been harder than I thought.
Recently I was talking to a friend in politics about what it means to share the most vulnerable parts of our lives for the causes we are working toward. We talked about the stories that are hard to share, the ones that make our chest tighten and our eyes well up just to think of them.
This friend told me a tragic story from his childhood that if shared publicly, would silence a lot of criticism he was receiving. It would likely foster empathy and understanding from people reading the hateful comments from the other side. He was contemplating putting the story into the world, and I told him he should. His response changed my perspective:
“If I share that story, a piece of me goes out with it.”
I immediately knew what he meant, because I’ve felt it every time I’ve talked about the kids and families who need better quality special education in Arkansas.
It’s difficult to advocate for the issues that are closest to home. This is why now, perhaps more than ever, I feel raw and vulnerable as I share what I know. Other issues matter deeply— this one is the whole reason I got into this ruthless political arena.
In the last few weeks, the efforts to hurt me have been easy to spot. Strangers on the internet called into question my values, integrity, and motivation for advocating at all. I was even called “pronoun princess,” which I might add to my twitter bio.
None of these insults hold a candle to the pain I feel when I realize anew that educating kids with disabilities, including disabled individuals among their peers, matters very little to the average Arkansan. I felt that a lot over the last couple of weeks. I had to do a lot of reframing and adjusting my expectations for this work. I processed it all and arrived back at the realization that yes, reality is painful, and that’s exactly why I started this work in the first place.
So I will keep sharing about my kids, shouting their worth at the top of my lungs. I’ll talk about the children and caregivers I’ve worked with who deserve a fair shot at participating in society. I will encounter ignorance, hatred, and intentional misunderstanding every time I say these things. But nothing changes unless we move forward, say the things that make us feel vulnerable, and remember the reasons this work worth it.