We have a winner!
Well at least, I hope so.
S’s OT met me at the school I’d decided was ‘most likely’ to be the school of my choice – which was school number 3 (if you’ve been following my journey thus far)! A quick reminder: it’s a school with about 370 kids, very limited experience with kids with physical disabilities, with a good local reputation but with some access issues and the furthest from our home of the ones I’d looked at.
Despite the negatives, I’ve had such a good vibe about this school since my first visit. I’ve thought over the things the principal had to say in response to my questions and been fortunate enough to be able to get a bit of ‘inside knowledge’ as one of the integration aides is a friend of a good friend of mine. I’ve also been able to speak to a few parents whose children attend the school already and who are very happy with it.
So I was excited about my visit there last Friday with the OT. Excited, but nervous.
Seeing as I’d been having such positive feelings about the school, I was really worried that the OT wouldn’t like it, or the principal would seem less enthusiastic or say something that made me worried about the school’s attitude.
None of these things happened.
The OT did concede that there were some access issues, but we were able to problem solve our way around most of them. There will still be some access points to the buildings that will be very difficult for S to navigate – steps are too steep to provide for ramps (as I suspected) but there are other entry points that he will be able to use.
My biggest concern was about his access to a toilet in the main school building. The current toilets are just NOT accessible for him. We looked at where the staff toilets are and were excited to find a ‘shower room” (yes, weird I know!) next to the staff toilets that is currently being used as a store room – but would make a PERFECT disabled toilet. Hopefully, the powers-that-be who provide funds for these things will agree!
The school is also about to get a new purpose built building as part of the ‘education revolution’ which will also have a disabled toilet and easy access for all students.
Things were looking good!
As great as it was seeing many problems being ‘solved’, at first, I found the experience a little unsettling. I felt uncomfortable about walking around the school with the principal and the OT with the OT making LOTS of suggestions for changes to make the whole school more accessible (to give a few examples – some of the paths are uneven, some doors have knobs instead of handles, some steps have rails which are wide and square, rather than round and easy to grip etc).
I felt like I was demanding special treatment for my son – like a pop star demanding only a certain kind of bottled water backstage at a concert or a customer complaining about the colour of a table cloth in a restaurant. I know these thoughts are silly. I KNOW that what we are talking about is access, and his RIGHT to have this access, but the feeling still niggled and I felt almost a little embarrassed about some of the little things the OT was pointing out – to the point where I found myself starting to say things like ‘oh, I think that will be OK’.
Maybe I was worried that the principal would take the suggestions as personal criticism? I am not sure. But the feeling stayed. for a while.
Until we got talking about a disabled parking space and toilet and the OT pointed out the school should already have one of each -not just for any current or possible future students who might need them, but also in case a grandparent, parent, visitor to the school etc needed to use them – or even if a staff member had some sort of accident and was, even temporarily, in a wheelchair.
At that point, I realised that of course all of this was not JUST for S. It was for S’s benefit to start with, but naturally, better access and improved facilities would benefit the whole school community and other children in the future.
With that realisation firmly in my mind, I found my mindset totally change – and I even found myself pointing things out that the OT missed :-). After all, if the government has funds to make a school accessible, let’s make it as accessible as we can !
It was with this new found enthusiasm and energy that I had my only “Oh-oh” moment of the morning.
The OT and I were outside one of the entrances she had identified would be a perfect place to build a ramp. The principal had been called away for a minute. When she returned, the OT showed her where the ramp could be built and mentioned that it was important for S to have a path out of the building at this far end, in case of, for example, a fire.
The principal went quiet. She nodded her head and then sighed. This was the moment I had been worrying about. I was sure of it. I was just waiting for her to make a comment that a ramp would be unattractive or unsuitable here or that she didn’t think access from this end of the school was important.
Instead, this is what she said:
‘But what if the fire is at this end of the building?’
So she’d been thinking only of my child and his safety. Glorious lady!
As we were leaving, the principal suggested that it would be nice for me to bring S in to see the school for himself and for her to meet him.
We”ll be lining that up very soon.
So yes, I think we have a winner.
I have almost finished filling in our application form.
Very, very excited and relieved to hopefully have this part of the journey over.
Next up is the applications for funding (for both S and the school) and then, school transition sessions with his kinder and the school, discussions with PT, OT and Speech therapists about how best S will access all aspects of the curriculum etc etc… I will also be visiting another child who has similiar speech and mobility issues to S who is currently in grade 3, to see how it all happens with him in practice. I think this will be a very valuable experience.
So the journey will continue, but I definitely feel one major step closer to my little kinder boy becoming a big school kid!!!