I called my grandmother today, after not talking to her for a while. Yes, I admit, I’m a bad “daughter/granddaughter”. The excuse I have is that I don’t know when to call her when she’s home anymore (she’s chosen not to have long distance on her phone, so she never calls me), but the real reason is that it’s sad to hear that nothing is going on in her life.
My grandmother is elderly, 88 years old, and voluntarily gave up her drivers license last year. So she doesn’t get out much (and yes, even though she doesn’t get out much, I still have a hard time getting her on the phone when I try to call).
Today, I called, and after a couple of attempts, I finally got in touch with her. After asking her what was going on in her life (and hearing “nothing, it’s the same old thing”) I finally found out that my grandmother had written a letter to the Chicago Sun Times. The title of this post is the title her letter was printed under.
My grandmother was a pioneer in area of obtaining access for people with intellectual disabilities. Only, back when she started doing activism, people with intellectual disabilities were called “mentally retarded”, if they were called anything. See, my grandmother’s first born son, when she was 26 years old, was born with Down’s Syndrome.
This was back in the late 1940’s. Back when the “advise” all doctors gave people who had “undesirable” children was “put them in an institution.” When Grandma and Grandpa refused, the doctor told Grandma to give my Uncle a bath, wash his hair, put a diaper on him, and let outside to “play” in the snow. See, by that time, it was late December, early January in Chicago. The doctor’s reasoning was that John would catch a cold, that would become pneumonia, and he’d die. It was really for the best, honest. After all “mongoloid” children don’t live past infancy anyways.
Needless to say, my grandparents got a new pediatrician.
My Uncle John is now 62 years old. While he was a child, my grandparents fought for access for him. First, they were part of a co-op of parents who started a school for children with all sorts of intellectual disabilities. They, the parents, and a few professional teachers they hired, taught the kids real school subjects. Math. Reading. Writing. Not all the children could learn everything, but they all did the best they could, the children as well as the adults. My Uncle can read, write, and do very simple math (despite what the people at the State level think he should be able to do).
After the state took over the school, and changed the curriculum, Grandma was able to get Uncle John into a public high school. After two years, he was “kicked out” of school for being too old to go to school. There was no “special education” classes back then, but at least getting him into a public school was a blow for access.
Later, after Uncle John was no longer able to go to school, in my grandparents suburb, a bond issue was going to vote for money for the public schools. My grandparents went to the board meetings, asking if there was going to be any access for children with handicaps. They were told no.
So my grandparents began a grass roots campaign to stop the bond. Grandma had a mimeograph machine, and printed out thousands of flyers in our basement. I remember going around to the houses around my block and putting a flyer on every door.
The bond issue failed.
A year later, they tried again. This time, they were going to have access for children using wheelchairs. My grandparents did nothing, because there was access for somebody with disabilities.
The bond issue passed.
Grandma has stopped actively working towards access for people with disabilities. Others, younger people with more energy and time, took up the fight.
But Grandma is one of the pioneers in this ongoing struggle. You’ll never read her name in a history book. The things she did stemmed from a sense of enlightened self-interest (by getting access or insurance for John, she was helping others who came after him to get access or continue on the parents insurance after they were adults but still dependant on their parents). And honestly, she doesn’t think she did anything special.
But she recently wrote a letter to the Chicago Sun Times. They printed it. Unfortunately, it was over a month ago, and the Sun Times only archives it’s stories for a month. But when I googled the title of the article, I found 4 pages of sites that had referred back to Grandma’s article.
I couldn’t be more proud of my Grandma and what she’s accomplished in her life than I am right now.