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Archive for Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lawrence woman with disability becomes advocate for people like herself

August 4, 2013

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Stacy Tucker decided she’d had enough.

She was tired of the awkward stares and giggles, of having people tell her what she couldn’t do, of being treated as less than human.

The fight the 35-year-old Lawrence woman has entered into isn’t glamorous. There’s no certainty it will make a difference. But it’s everything to her.

Tucker was born with severe learning disabilities, impeding her ability to read, spell or do math. She never got to reach her dream of going to college or becoming a teacher.

But she persevered, had two beautiful children, got married. At home, she’s Mom, or Stacy.

Everywhere else, it seems, she’s still treated like an “other.”

Stacy Tucker, 35, and her 11-year-old son, Michael, both have learning disabilities. The Lawrence woman has become an advocate for people with similar disabilities.

Stacy Tucker, 35, and her 11-year-old son, Michael, both have learning disabilities. The Lawrence woman has become an advocate for people with similar disabilities.

As a person with a disability, it’s hard not to notice the pointing, the whispers, the laughter. She’s been dealing with it since she was a child, and it doesn’t seem to have gotten better.

People can be cruel, yes, but is there something more to it? How much does the public really know about the challenges people with disabilities endure on a daily basis?

Tucker set out to tell them. She began to write, in longhand, with her husband transcribing her words on a computer. She wanted something she could show people she met, to not only introduce them to her and her disability but to the struggles of millions of people like her. A magazine for parents of disabled children published one of her articles in 2007; it printed a second earlier this summer.

Tucker just wants to be treated the same as everyone else, to have people say, “Hi, how are you?” rather than stare or ask what’s wrong. She’s willing to bring her message anywhere (“I’ll go to Washington or the White House if I have to,” she says), to tell anyone who will listen about the bigotry people with disabilities still face every day — and how it needs to change.

“It’s finally time to get the word out,” said Tucker, whose personality is a mix of innocent and vivacious, on a recent day in her Lawrence mobile home, her family by her side. “It’s time to change the world, as Dr. Martin Luther King said. It’s time to sit in the front of the bus!”

A history of segregation

People with disabilities have faced discrimination going back generations, from ridicule and ostracization to downright violence and abuse. Advocates for disabled people eventually helped to make the public more aware of their struggles, helping to get anti-discrimination legislation passed in Congress. Their efforts culminated with 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act, which required public accommodations and equal opportunity to employment. But people with disabilities have continued to struggle with social acceptance.

“There’s probably more awareness of disabilities than ever before in the history of time. There are lots of legal protections in place that ensure free access to education and no discrimination,” said Michael Wehmeyer, professor of special education and director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities. “And still the general public has limited interaction with people with disabilities.”

Things are at least moving in the right direction. In the past, people with disabilities were segregated, in institutions or separate schools and classrooms. However, a new generation of Americans is being brought up in a different world.

Federal statute now requires that students with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. And legislation passed in Kansas four years ago compels schools to incorporate lessons about disability history and awareness into their curriculums. How each of these laws is interpreted is left up to the individual school district.

“It’s our belief that every one of our students should be taught in a neighborhood school with their peers as much as possible,” remarked Kevin Harrell, director of student intervention services for Lawrence public schools, who said he plans to share Tucker’s recent article with his principals and staff. “Then they go through school together, and relationships are developed.”

For an example of the positive outcomes that can result from this policy, he cited what happened at Free State High School a few years ago, when special-needs students were left off the homecoming court ballot. Their classmates circulated a petition to have them added to it and went on to elect Owen Phariss, a student with Down syndrome, as their homecoming king.

“People with disabilities are probably more different from each other than they are similar,” said Stacey Hunter Schwartz, executive director of Lawrence-based Independence Inc. “I think if more people would take the time to get to know individuals with disabilities and get to know these people as individuals, everyone would learn more about how to maximize the contributions that everyone can make to society.”

Tucker’s son is another example of just how much things have changed.

Like his mom, Michael also has learning disabilities, struggling with spelling and reading. Asked whether he ever gets bullied, the 11-year-old said he doesn’t, and that his friends would step in and defend him if it ever started. His mom, on the other hand, was teased so badly in class that she had to drop out and finish her schooling at home.

Story resonates

Travis Bissell knows where Tucker is coming from.

The 26-year-old from Lawrence believes his learning disability has prevented him from being able to reach his goals. He wants to become a prep cook but has been discouraged from trying by employers and social workers alike.

Travis Bissell, a dishwasher, and Stacy Tucker, a housekeeper, both work at Lawrence's Presbyterian Manor and have severe learning disabilities. After Tucker decided to advocate for people with disabilities, Bissell has become more outspoken about the subject as well.

Travis Bissell, a dishwasher, and Stacy Tucker, a housekeeper, both work at Lawrence's Presbyterian Manor and have severe learning disabilities. After Tucker decided to advocate for people with disabilities, Bissell has become more outspoken about the subject as well.

Bissell, who works with Tucker at Lawrence’s Presbyterian Manor, had always preferred to keep his disability a secret, wanting his accomplishments to be judged on their own merits. He was afraid he’d be put into a separate category, that people would be even more likely to pass him over for opportunities if they knew the truth. So Bissell chose to remain in his shell, figuring no one would understand what he was going through anyway. Then he read Tucker’s recent article, which inspired him to start letting his voice be heard.

“I want people to treat disabled people the same way they would somebody who doesn’t have a disability. We’re all people here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re like me — have a learning disability — or can’t walk. It goes the same for everybody. Everybody’s kind of judging disabled people in general without getting to know them first.”

Tucker has heard encouragement from other disabled people, who, like Bissell, let her know she’s spot on, that she’s saying what they’ve been scared to say. Some of their family members have told her they had no idea what their loved ones were going through. She believes many people with disabilities internalize their mistreatment, allowing it to fester.

Even if Tucker doesn’t end up changing the world, her advocacy has made her more confident than she’s ever been, like she’s finally found her purpose. She seems genuinely excited, wanting to share her thoughts with whoever is around, her enthusiasm bubbling over. And to think, she said, all she ever wanted to do in life was be teacher.

But isn’t that what she’s doing now, in the truest sense? “I want to educate the world,” she said.

— Reporter Giles Bruce can be reached at 832-7233. Follow him at Twitter.com/GilesBruce

Comments

pransone 1 year ago

You're an inspiration.

2

littlebit1313 1 year ago

It is nice to know that there are people like you in this world. It makes it a better place.

1

Stain 1 year ago

Stares and giggles? Seriously? Are people this ignorant and heartless? It's hard to believe.

We don't all get the same box of tools in life. Shame on those who don't understand that.

0

Susan Shaw 1 year ago

Congratulations to Stacy for working hard to make life better for others and herself as well.

0

happyrearviewmirror 1 year ago

It would be great if the people of Lawrence could stop grabbing strangers( and/or their belongings) when they perceive someone has a physical limitation. How is this any different than profiling and targeting? It's discriminatory. I like to help obviously dumb people, but I'm too cultured and aware to aggressively seek them out in the public streets or on the bus. Please think twice before you bother people you don't know.

Unwelcome conduct is exactly that---meaning not checking to see if someone in public is interested in speaking to you before aggressively inserting yourself in their personal space equals harassment. Approaching people with scripted questions is more worthy of a tape loop or a robot than a human being. Most people appreciate it most when strangers show decent respect for their personal space.

Please don't judge strangers by assuming they need or want help. It's very offensive. If you do that and end up getting cursed out, frankly, you may deserve it. Kindness is in the eye of the beholder. Accept this or admit outright you have horses of self-congratulation in the race.

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tomatogrower 1 year ago

Jeez, move to a big city. People around here are just helpful and courteous to others, with or without disabilities. Better yet, there is still some wilderness left, go there.

1

bearded_gnome 1 year ago

^^happyrearviewmirror 2 hours, 24 minutes ago

It would be great if the people of Lawrence could stop grabbing strangers( and/or their belongings) when they perceive someone has a physical limitation. How is this any different than profiling and targeting? It's discriminatory. I like to help obviously dumb people, but I'm too cultured and aware to aggressively seek them out in the public streets or on the bus. Please think twice before you bother people you don't know.

---"obviously dumb people ..." referring to learning disabled people this way is exactly what she's working against!

HRVM, you really need therapy. you repeatedly post about this same complaint. if something particular happened to you, you obviously need therapy to cope with it.

3

bearded_gnome 1 year ago

^^Stain 8 hours, 16 minutes ago

Stares and giggles? Seriously? Are people this ignorant and heartless? It's hard to believe.

---Stain, believe it indeed. sorry to tell you but quite true. and this understates the negative reactions drawn by people with various impairments/disabilities. try outright discrimination and prejudice.

0

bearded_gnome 1 year ago

Their efforts culminated with 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act, which required public accommodations and equal opportunity to employment. But people with disabilities have continued to struggle with social acceptance.

---some of the enforcement of ADA goes unreasonably too far. also, stats I understand indicate that the passage of the ADA actually made it harder for people with disabilities to get hired because potential employers have a reasonable fear of extreme litigation.

after the passage of this, "trawlers" would go through communities small and large filing access suits to make themselves and lawyers big bux. most often these "trawlers" weren't even from those communities. all this did was increase concerns about litigation further.

an historic drive-in burger joint where I grew up had to close down becuse of one of these. put people out of work. sure didn't help te disabled of that community.

0

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