Could you, would you, ever imagine a child going to school in a wheelchair and being told that she couldn’t use her wheelchair in the classroom because it wasn’t a school district issued wheelchair?
Could you, would you, ever imagine a child taking his inhaler to school and being told he wasn’t allowed to use it because he hadn’t yet been approved by a certified school employee?
Could you, would you, ever imagine a blind child being denied access to her cane in her classroom?
That was exactly what happened in our case. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about how Marley was excited to bring her cane to school in the blog post, “Marley Jane and Mrs. Cane.” She’d named her cane on a recent hike, and asked if she could bring Mrs. Cane to school. What other answer could I give her but an enthusiastic, “Yes, of course you can!” We made sure to go over all our cane rules with Marley before heading to the classroom. We explained to her teacher that we want to encourage her to use the cane, and went over our rules about the cane with them as well. After school that day, Marley excitedly told us all about how she told the other kids that it wasn’t a stick, it was her cane which she uses to help her find things by tapping in front of her.
That was on a Monday.
Just two days later, on Wednesday, my husband and I met with her teacher to go over Marley’s IEP and progress in the classroom. I left the meeting knowing that even though things might be moving slowing with getting Braille integrated and implemented via her IEP, due to legal logistics and bureaucratic school district red tape in the form of assessments, parent signatures, more assessments, and more parent signatures, we would get Braille sooner than later as long as we kept pushing for it. In the mean time, I will be personally putting Braille in Marley’s classroom while we wait.
That day, a few specialists from the CCSD Vision Services came to observe Marley in her class, toss the ball around with her to test her motor skills, and make the decision that Marley was not allowed to use her cane at school. Upon receiving this news from her preschool teacher when picking Marley up at the end of the day, i thanked her for the message, and told her I’d take care of the issue.
How did I feel about that?
Frustrated, furious, and fuming would be putting nicely how I felt that evening.
What did I do?
First, I posted the situation on Facebook for support and advice from my friends, especially those who were professionals in the field of Teaching Blind Children, Orientation and Mobility, and advocacy. I was right to be upset. This was completely against ADA law, and against the National White Cane Law. This was exactly like the airlines telling us we can’t have our canes. Denying a blind person access to tools of independence is denying them the right to participate in society, and in life.
Second, after calming down a few degrees, I called Marley’s TVI (teacher of the visually impaired) the next morning to find out what had actually been said and why. She explained she had not been there when the other school district employee had made the decision about Marley’s cane, would find out for me the details of the situation, and would give her supervisor a call. I’ve never actually met Marley’s TVI in person. Marley’s case had been transferred to her on the first week of school. I am please to say that I get great vibes from her positivity and willingness to work with me for Marley’s best interest in mind.
That afternoon I received a call back from the supervisor of vision services per my request. She explained the school district employee was concerned that Marley had not had proper training with the cane by a certified CCSD Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor. She was afraid of Marley getting hurt or hurting others with her cane. She wanted to wait until and O&M specialist could evaluate Marley with her cane. I explained that Marley has indeed had great training on the cane, that she has also observed me with my cane her entire life, she has always wanted a cane of her own since before we were even aware of her eye condition, she understands and aknowledges that her cane helps her from tripping and running into obstacles, and most importantly that Marley is excited about using her cane. Why would any adult want to take that from a blind child?
Shortly after our phone call, I received this email which had been sent to all members of Marley’s educational team.
“I understand Marley Rupp is bringing a cane from home to school. One of our teachers expressed a concern about her bringing her cane to school because it wasn’t issued by CCSD. From my discussions with Ms. Huff, my understanding is Marley is using it in a safe manner. Marley’s mom expressed she would like Marley to have access to her cane during the school day. Also, she informed me Marley has had private instruction on how to use her cane. My recommendation is for Marley to have access to her cane during the school day as long as she is demonstrating safe use of it . Also, I am asking one of our orientation and mobility specialist to visit Wright ES on Monday and observe Marley’s use of her cane. I do recommend completing an orientation and mobility referral and a CCF 555, so proper assessment can be administered.”
Though it might look like we’ve won this battle, my heart breaks thinking of the damage which has already been done. Immediately following, Marley expressed she no longer wanted to take her cane to school. She was afraid she would get in trouble for having it, and she was afraid of someone taking it away from her. She has also started having night terrors again, and talking in her sleep about her cane. I find myself constantly telling her to keep the tip on the ground and in front of her. Worst of all, I was forced to take it away from her before school because of her behavior and misuse of it.
What do we do now, and how to we heel his wound?
We bring the excitement back! We get her wanting to use her cane again. Even better, we help her feel proud of her cane.
Marley is in the middle of track break until the first week of November. During this time, we will have our cane with us everywhere we go. We take every opportunity to educate anyone who might have questions about it. We even spent last Saturday celebrating both Marley and her little brother’s birthdays with a picnic adventure hike where Marley got to show off her awesome purple cane to her friends. All of her friends now want a purple cane just like Marley. We will even be decorating our canes and using them as part of our Halloween costumes as our fairy wands.
Together, especially my little Marley and her Mrs. Cane will change what it means to be blind by redefining rules, mystifying misconceptions, and conquering our dreams one tap at a time.