An international leader in disability advocacy, TASH is dedicated to equity, opportunity
and inclusion for all. They work to ensure everyone has an opportunity to learn, work and enjoy life amongst a diverse community of family, friends and colleagues. This December, in Portland, Oregon TASH celebrated 40 years of generating change within the disability community. Five students from Growing Kids Therapy Center attended to advocate for their desire for an inclusive education. Benjamin McGann, Emma Budway and Huan Vuong are RPM students from Arlington Virginia who flew out to Portland to present. They each gave a TASH Talk (a 10 minute talk in the style of a TED Talk) and presented on a 50 minute panel discussion along with GKTC’s Portland RPMers, Liam Paquin and Niko Boskovic. Huan was also an invited panelist on a panel titled Sound the Alarm: Addressing the Ongoing Crisis in Communication Services and Supports. Finally, Ben, Huan and Emma represented the short film they created, The Power of Words, in a poster session. In each and every session, the students were quite simply AMAZING! These five students were confident, insightful, witty and brilliant! They had the audience hanging on their every letter as they used the letter boards to spell out their powerful messages of advocacy, inclusion and acceptance. Read on to hear what they had to say!
Ben, Emma and Huan each gave a TASH Talk. Each talk was limited to 10 minutes, since it takes a bit of time to spell, the students prepared an introduction ahead of time (in italics) and completed the remainder of their talk on the letter boards (in all caps).
Hello. My name is Benjamin McGann. My talk today is about advocacy and leadership. You might ask, what does this guy know about advocacy and leadership? Well, it turns out I am an expert in advocacy and leadership. My expertise comes from years of being left out. Left out of education. Left out of conversations. Left out of decisions. Left out of everything. Because I don’t talk, I have been presumed incompetent and worse insufficient to matter. This must stop. Stop thinking people with disabilities don’t matter. I am here to tell you that everyone matters. We must provide our young people with opportunities. These opportunities exist through education. I can tell you I did not learn through school. I have acquired my knowledge through listening and thinking about everything I hear. I challenge you to listen to me and think about what I am telling you.
Hi. My name is Emma Budway. I am happy to be hear and tell you my story. I will do the majority of my presentation on powerpoint because I have trouble controlling my body. It takes me a while to spell however spelling is the communication method I use best. I am able to express my thoughts and knowledge through RPM. My mouth is not reliable. Most of what I show with my body is ridiculously inappropriate or at best unreliable. So if you see or hear me do something stupid it is not me it is my body. Now that I have explained about the disconnect between my brain and body can you understand when I have been denied a meaningful education? I am sympathetic to teachers who had to deal with my outbursts but that does not mean that I should not have been shut away in special education. Kept away from normal classes and denied the chance to learn with peers. One thing I want you to know is there are so many out there like me. Nonspeaking autistics like me that want you to know how much they want to learn. I am asking on behalf of those who do not have a voice to hear our plea to teach us. Respect our brains as tough as it may be please accept our lack of motor control. Stop trying to make us like you. That is a losing proposition.
THANK YOU. I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY. I WANT TO TELL YOU THAT DESPITE MY MOUTH I AM SO EAGER TO LEARN. TALKING IS NOT THE ONLY WAY. I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY. I WANT TO LEARN. EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL LEARNERS.
Emma closed her presentation with a poem she wrote in July, 2015.
TELL ME NO MORE!
QUIET THEY SAY
ONLY WISH I COULD.
HANDS TO SELF
ONLY WISH THEY WOULD.
NOT TIME FOR SINGING
IT HURTS MY EARS
TELL ME ABOUT IT!
My name is Huan Vuong. I am eighteen years old. I live in Arlington, Virginia. I have been excluded from regular education my entire life. The reason is because I cannot control my body. This is a problem when no one will take into consideration my motor planning problems. My brain is mighty buy my body is weak. I can listen to and understand everything. However if you are asking me to show you what I know via speaking or writing or typing independently I can’t guarantee that my body will cooperate. How do you support kids like me in the classroom? Acceptance is the answer(video).
I VERY MUCH WANT THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES THAT ARE EXTENDED TO TYPICAL KIDS. NOT HAVING RELIABLE SPEECH SHOULD NOT REMOVE MY RIGHT TO LEARN. I AM A CITIZEN, AN AMERICAN AND AN EAGER LEARNER. I WANT THE SAME ACCESS TO EDUCATION AS EVERY OTHER PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENT. PLEASE STOP FOCUSING ON A CURE. THE CURE IS ACCEPTANCE. THE CURE IS MEANINGFUL EDUCATION. THE CURE IS TO PRESUME COMPETENCE. I KNOW THAT THIS REPRESENTS A NEW WAY OF THINKING BUT I HAVE FAITH IN YOU AND YOUR ABILITY TO LEARN NEW THINGS. THANK YOU.
Huan’s invited speech for the panel, Sound the Alarm: Addressing the Ongoing Crisis in Communication Services and Supports. The members of this panel invited Huan to join their presentation. The stated intention of this panel was: “Current evidence suggests that many persons with significant support needs are not receiving the supports and services they require to communicate successfully across environments. In schools, individuals are being denied access to successful supports because they are not deemed “evidence based” while other individuals are denied access because they are required to demonstrate competence before given an opportunity to learn. In this session, panel members will review the existing evidence, describe existing legislation and guidance related to the crisis, and call participants to action in continuing 40 years of progressive leadership by joining a work group to address the crisis.”
GOOD MORNING (video). (crowd responds, “good morning!”). MY NAME IS HUAN VUONG. I AM NONSPEAKING AND AUTISTIC. I COMMUNICATE VIA SPELLING ON A LETTER BOARD. MY SCHOOL DOES NOT ACCEPT MY METHOD OF COMMUNICATION. I AM THEREFORE DENIED A MEANINGFUL EDUCATION. MY ONGOING FIGHT WITH THE SCHOOL IS YIELDING NO RESULTS. I AM CLEARLY CAPABLE OF LEARNING YET NO SCHOOL WILL TEACH ME. THIS MUST STOP. I AM NOT ALONE. THERE ARE SO MANY LIKE ME WHO DO NOT SPEAK WHO ARE BEING ROBBED OF AN EDUCATION. THIS IS AN ATROCITY THAT OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM MUST STOP. THANK YOU FOR LISTENING.
Emma, Niko, Huan, Ben and Liam present in a panel discussion, Voices of Exclusion: Nonspeaking Youth Advocate for Inclusive Education.
Would you like to welcome our audience?
Emma: HI EVERYONE
Huan: HI THERE SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE
Ben: I AM DELIGHTED TO BE HERE
Liam: HI WELCOME TO PORTLAND
Can you address the difference between speech and understanding?
Niko: MY COMPREHENSION IS PERFECT. I JUST CANT GET THE WORDS OUT OF MY MOUTH.
Huan: MY CONTROL OF MY BODY IS LIMITED. HOWEVER I CAN THINK JUST FINE.
Ben: GETTING THE WORDS OUT OF MY MOUTH IS IMPOSSIBLE BUT THIS IS NOT A REFLECTION OF MY THINKING.
Liam: MY STUPID MOUTH BETRAYS ME. I AM SO MUCH SMARTER THAN I SHOW.
What can you tell our audience about your motor system?
Ben: MY MOTOR SYSTEM IS UNRELIABLE AT BEST. AT WORST MY MOTOR IS A DISASTER. I CANT CONTROL MY SELF AT TIMES. SO I VERY MUCH GET EMBARRASSED BY MY BODY.
Huan: I AGREE COMPLETELY WITH BEN! I HAVE MORE CONTROL OF MYSELF AT TIMES THEN FOR NO REASON I DON’T.
Niko: DITTO. I CANT SAY IT ANY BETTER.
Emma: SAME HERE.
Liam: I AGREE WITH MY LOVELY FRIENDS!
Liam, can you please explain the difference between the words that come out of your mouth versus what you spell on the letter boards?
L: WORDS LOVE TO TRICK ME. THEY GIVE LIES TO MY THOUGHTS.
How does your lack of speech affect your education?
Emma: NO ONE TEACHES US BECAUSE WE DON’T SPEAK.
Niko: MY SCHOOL IS ALLOWING ME TO RPM. THIS HAS BEEN LIFE CHANGING. I FINALLY AM GETTING AN EDUCATION.(Video)
Huan: LUCKY NIKO! THIS NEEDS TO BE THE NORM NOT THE EXCEPTION.
Ben: CANT AGREE MORE. WHAT POSSIBLE HARM COULD COME FROM TEACHING US?
Emma: I AGREE WITH BEN.
Liam: SO WHAT ARE YOU IN THIS ROOM GOING TO DO TO CHANGE THINGS?
Do you have suggestions for educators?
Liam: YES. START HAVING A LITTLE FAITH IN US!
Emma: TEACH US LIKE WE WANT TO LEARN.
Niko: I THINK YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE. STOP DOUBTING AND START TEACHING.
Huan: HAVE FAITH IN OUR ABILITY TO LEARN. UNDER THIS UNCOOPERATIVE BODY IS AN EAGER STUDENT.
Ben: GETTING TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS ABILITIES WILL ASTOUND YOU. VERY SMART, HEARTS OF GOLD, AND WILLING TO GO TO ANY LENGTH TO LEARN.
Rapid fire! Can you briefly tell us what you have to offer and inclusive classroom?
Ben: MENTAL AGILITY
Huan: MY LEADERSHIP
Niko: MY FRIENDSHIP
Liam: REALLY GREAT DANCE MOVES
Last thoughts for our audience?
Emma: PLEASE OPEN YOUR MINDS
Niko: HAVE A NEW RESPECT FOR AUTISTICS
Huan: MAKE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR YOUR LEARNERS.
Ben: STOP EXCLUDING NONSPEAKING AUTISTICS.
Liam: RESPECT YOUR LEARNERS. WE WILL NOT DISAPPOINT YOU.
It was a busy day of presentations but we were not done yet! Finally, we had a poster presentation on The Power of Words, a short film that Ben, Huan and Emma wrote, produced, starred in and premiered in the Summer of 2014 with two other RPMers, Paul Park and James Potthast.
Thank you to the members of TASH who were a supportive and attentive audience. Thank you to the families who supported their student’s desires to present at this conference. Most of all, thank you to Ben, Emma, Huan, Niko and Liam for your courage, your insights, your advocacy and your words. We could not be more impressed and proud of you!
~Elizabeth, Ben, Emma, Huan, Niko and Liam