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    October is Disability History Awareness Month
    Posted on 10/15/2020
    A photo of Emily and a baby

    October is Disability History Awareness Month

    In honor of Disability History Awareness Month, Seattle Public Schools seeks to amplify the history and lived experiences of our students and staff with disabilities.

    We recently interviewed an SPS special education staff member who identifies as an adult with disabilities on how their experiences impact their work, and their approach to serving students receiving special education services.

    Emily Caucci (they/them), a special education program specialist, has been with Seattle Public Schools for over five years. They work with teachers, special education teams, related service providers, school leadership, and families to provide students with special education services, create and deliver professional development, and support inclusive instruction.

    In addition to serving students with disabilities, Emily also proudly identifies as disabled. "First off, I am proud to be disabled (I have coexisting illnesses that affect my brain, my nervous system, and cerebrospinal fluid). I'm proud to have an experience that makes me closer to the work I do every day, and glad to use the identifier 'disabled' when I speak to urge others to acknowledge that disability exists, even in a co-worker that you see every day."

    Normalizing the existence of visible and invisible disabilities is crucial, especially in their day to day work and life. "The world is inherently not made for us, so a large part of my life's work is to make spaces in the world for myself and other disabled people."

    Professionally, Emily has worked with students with disabilities for the last decade. They gained a new perspective on how people with disabilities experience the world when they were diagnosed themselves. "When you become disabled, you gain a new appreciation for the efforts and struggles of our special education families and the extra work that is not an option for them in order to access society and education."

    That commitment to access and inclusion is a central motivator for Emily in their work. Yet, it remains an ongoing challenge.

    "The overarching American reality is that disabled people are often overlooked as members of society or are often overlooked as people who have the right to a meaningful life, an equitable and fulfilling life. I think in an ideal world, obviously everything would be accessible for all students. If that happened, public education would look vastly different…the world would look different…I guess with that considered, a measurement of success with inclusion is a measurement of how inclusive practices evolve to validate the worth and strengths of disabled students. Our students deserve that."

    It is also important that we learn, culturally, socially, and politically, to challenge an all too often exclusively negative narrative around disability. Raising their child has really shown Emily the value of young people AND adults honoring many ways of being in the world.

    "It's great to teach my child how to be mindful of accommodations and that sometimes he needs to be a helper…we need more kids that know and care about a disabled person personally…there is such a great capacity for all students to learn about this and general education students should have an opportunity in school to work on this skill. One thing that always makes me smile is I imagine that when I walk into a school with my cane or wheelchair, a disabled kid might be positively affected by seeing an adult who looks like them. I personally really crave representation and feel a lift when I see other disabled folks in the world, or in the media."

    Though disclosing disability status is a personal and complex decision, it is wonderful to see students who recognize themselves in the adults who support them in schools and in the world. And able-bodied, neurotypical adults can support their colleagues, students, and community members by practicing compassionate respect.

    "Don't park in disabled parking spots if you are not disabled, please! Also, practice giving disabled people dignity by allowing us to care for ourselves (we will ask you if we need help). Please don't touch someone's wheelchair without their consent. Please do not feel entitled to comment on 'what is wrong with us' if we are visibly disabled; normalize disabled bodies! Allow us autonomy, peace, and extra time to get places when possible. Actively work to dismantle a culture that disrespects and does not accommodate disabled folks.

    Practice intersectionality; if you believe that Black lives matter, and that love is love, then you should use that energy to actively include the disabled population in your efforts. Disabled people can be marginalized within already marginalized group. Disabled people of color need your support NOW. Trans disabled people need your support NOW. Disabled students need your support NOW."

    Seattle Public Schools is proud that individuals like Emily are willing to share their stories so that we may continue to center and amplify voices of individuals with disabilities.

    Please note: as a best practice, we typically use 'people first' language when discussing disability. In some cases, individuals prefer to be identified as 'disabled.' The language used in this story has been approved by Emily Caucci, but everyone has different language they are comfortable using and an individual's preferences should be honored.