Enhancing Diversity: Chapter 1, Identifying the Issuescontinued . . .
After Sarah left Clay went down the hall to another colleague's office to tell him what he had just experienced--Sarah's story, his reactions, the questions. As we talked, we realized that we could name quite a few current or recently graduated teacher-education candidates in different fields who had disabilities to whom we could talk to find out whether Sarah's experience was, hopefully, an anomaly or, unfortunately, the norm.


Ronald Anderson's participation in these issues did not include the type of epiphany that Clay experienced. As a veteran educator with a disability with more than twenty years of experience at the elementary, secondary, and higher education levels, Ron considers himself to be an advocate of individuals with disabilities as well as a reasonably effective and successful self-advocate. During his years in graduate school and as a professor he encountered both professors and colleagues who had little understanding and tolerance of advocacy for people with disabilities. He could understand the attitudes of some of his professors and colleagues because they had never had contact with individuals with disabilities, as either students or peers. Ron was surprised and greatly dismayed to learn that some of my special education colleagues and professors expressed intolerance toward students with disabilities who wanted to become educators. He also learned later that special education administrators were especially defensive and sometimes hostile toward professional educators with disabilities. The defensiveness was particularly noticeable when educators with disabilities questioned the rationale for the use of a strategy or a particular placement for a student with a disability. Special education administrators and some teachers appeared to have a great desire to exercise control. They suggested that their experiences better equipped them for determining the best course of action.

Ron has found that this paternalistic attitude and need for control has been observed among other professionals who work with people who have disabilities. For instance, Shapiro (1993) noted similar responses as political relationships between individuals with disabilities and professionals who work with them were being developed to achieve passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

Some disabled people complained that these health-care workers, particularly nondisabled ones, were controlling and paternalistic. Too often, therapists and social workers assumed they knew best instead of trusting the wishes of their clients. Many professionals felt threatened by the new group consciousness of disabled people. They were afraid or reluctant to share decision making or give up power that, in some cases, might even threaten their own jobs. (127)
Educators with disabilities apparently threatened those educators, especially special educators, who have held power and have been paternalistic in their approach with students who have disabilities. Instead of perceiving educators with disabilities as a resource, Ron observed that often teacher-educators and administrators saw them as obstacles and a source of extra work.

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