When I was a kid, there was a public service announcement sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which a boy accidentally breaks a window with a baseball. The old coot neighbor starts to complain, and then the boy admits he broke the window. The kid then sings “I told the truth!” I used to think big flipping deal. Every time I tell the truth, it just makes things worse. Seven years ago, I started telling the truth about my learning disabilities, and I totally got what that kid was talking about.
I never considered myself disabled. I always thought disabilities were being blind or deaf. Not me, no sir. I can see, I can walk, I don't need any special treatment, thank you very much. Okay, never mind my handwriting looks like a drunk Parkinson's patient's and I can't get through algebra, but I'm fine!
Part of it was I had a bad experience fifth grade; in fact that whole year was a Bad Experience. The coup de grâce was that year in my Resource class I had practiced my handwriting repeatedly so that, by the end of the year, I could show everyone in my regular class. It would be like the end of a Shirley Temple movie, except I couldn't sing. No matter!
Except for the fact my Resource teacher blew the surprise during a parent/teacher confrence. And, in front of the class, she said "You've been lying to all of us. Your handwriting isn't that bad. You go to that other class and you write cursive, yet you can't do it here. You're just lazy." Even now, whenever someone suggests I'm being slow or not working hard enough, even in jest, I lose it and snap. It's something I'm working on.
Yet after a terrible class where I critiqued, of all things putting too many Rice Krispies in a bowl, I knew something had to change. I could leave school again, give up my dream of going to a four-year college, and settle for less. Or I could start telling the truth: I have LDs, learning disabilities. I need help sometimes. I chose Plan B.
The first thing I did was I started putting down my LDs on job applications. Then I made a list of what I knew I was good at: writing, reading, the Internet, one-on-one help, typing, research, reading aloud, customer service, and much knowledge about 1970s television. I knew then I would not have a "normal" life. I couldn't work at a fast food place or as an administrative assistiant. However, I could have a life lived on my terms.
I signed up for a tutoring class the next semester. Within the first month, I had two jobs. The pay was awful, but I was working again! I was helping people! I told the truth about my LDs, yet they still wanted to hire me! Then I tried to get a retail job, and I told the truth. It worked. I faced down a fear and worked at a department store during Christmas break.
I decided to apply to a private college. If push came to shove, I could do algebra there. I told the truth. A month later, the big, fat envelope I had wanted to see all my life was in my mailbox.
In college, I enrolled in the disability alliance. I spoke about having a learning disability. I told my truth: Yes, I have this. However, it isn't who I am. I'm messy: an aunt, a daughter, a writer, and, oh yeah, I have terrible handwriting.
If it wasn't for the ADA, I wouldn't have started to tell the truth without being scared. Many people say the ADA is abused, yet if people want to go back to the way things used to be, feel free. The ADA is proof that when politicans check their egos at the door as Garry Trudeau once said, miracles can happen. Although I didn't vote for him (and I wasn't fond of his son), I'll always be grateful to President Bush 41 for signing the ADA.
The life I live now isn't perfect, but it's good. I know I'll never have beautiful handwriting, but I can type sixty-five words per minute. This year I finally can master some algebra and learning percentages. I am perfectly normal in an unnormal way.
Best of all, no one tells me I put too many Rice Krispies in a bowl. Score one for our side.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries