Learn about a student, speaker, and pioneer, Micah Fialka-Feldman, who continues to fight for disability-pride, justice, and inclusion in his post-secondary education program at Oakland University in Michigan.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Time for Celebration

A Time for Celebration
On Monday my brother will graduate from Oakland University. While I can’t physical be there…I am definitely there in spirit, proud that he’s graduating after having such a profound and significant college experience…full of college classes, microwavable popcorn, packaged oreos, lawsuits and victories, tons of smiles, exams and presentations, and whole lot of community building and community re-imagining.

As I travel and learn about education in another country, I carry Micah’s story with me because I know that inclusion is not just a “U.S.” thing or something that only “certain kids with certain issues” should be exposed to…inclusion is about rethinking success, rethinking testing, rethinking what schooling is all about…and this is something that should be (and in some place is) happening all around the world.

(Below is a blog I wrote for an organization, Special Quest, that advocates for inclusive practices in early-childhood settings. They are doing a series on Micah’s journey and the people who were impacted by this…check it out at: http://specialquest.org/inclusion/category/micahs-story/)

Growing up with my older brother, Micah, was not always easy—I mean how many siblings actually get along with their brother or sister all the time! We sure didn’t. Sometimes I wished he wasn’t my brother. And other times, we had a blast together—playing basketball, debating politics, watching funny movies. Having a brother with the label—intellectual disability—meant that our relationship was also different. At times I was embarrassed that my brother didn’t seem like my other friends’ siblings. Other times, I was worried about what his future would look like and I felt that other siblings didn’t have to worry about these types of issues.

However, Micah’s drive for an inclusive education meant that I grew to love and value Micah for Micah, for who he is. Inclusion became fundamentally important for the me as well as Micah. Inclusion meant that a community was being created around Micah. When I was in first grade, I saw Micah at recess with his peers—laughing and playing. Throughout my middle school experience, I saw Micah involved in peer groups. That meant that on some weekends, he’d leave home for overnight excursions with his friends. In high school, my older brother encouraged me to go to school dances and ultimately, the prom. He knew how important prom was for his high school experience and he wanted me to have that same “good time”. When I went off to college, I told my new college peers that my brother went to college too. I didn’t always have to explain the advocacy side of him; he could also just be my older brother who was studying at the university. Inclusion normalized his disability. The tangible results of inclusion meant that I could see others value Micah, I could see Micah participating in everyday activities, and in turn I could value Micah.

Now a junior at Mount Holyoke College, I am studying the intersection of disability and education issues. When I graduate I will have my teaching certificate in Early-Childhood Education. It is important that I teach in an inclusive classroom—so that the siblings in my classroom will see other individuals with disabilities participating, engaging with their peers, and ultimately being respected. My hope is that, they too, will be able to learn to appreciate their brother or sister with disabilities.

Most recently I helped Micah move into his dorm room. This was a powerful moment for me.

May all siblings of a brother or sister with a disability be able to help their sibling move out of their home into a home that they choose. May they be able to feel mixed emotions of over-protectiveness and excitement. May they be able to talk to each other in a new way because now they both live away from home. May the sibling (without disabilities) who has felt embarrassed, pushed to the side, heard too many phone calls about a meeting for their sibling, ever felt alone, ever felt uncertain about the role they may play in their brother or sister’s future, ever felt frustrated at the way the rest of the world looks at their brother or sister—may they too experience something so great as I did when I helped my so-called “atypical” “retarded” “can’t do anything” “will never speak” “just put him in an institution” … yes, my creative, courageous, witty, powerful, brilliant, intelligent, loving, conscientious, funny, older brother move into a dorm, so he, too, can be once again be just my brother.