Disability advocate, accessibility expert, author and speaker Tracy Schmitt — Unstoppable Tracy — tells a story from her childhood that she feels aptly illustrates the kinds of obstacles people with disabilities regularly face. Born a four-way amputee, Schmitt wore prosthetic legs as a child. When it came time for her to start kindergarten, the local school didn’t want to take her because they believed she wouldn’t be able to put her shoes on by herself at recess. Schmitt, who grew up in a close community, desperately wanted to go to school with her friends from her neighbourhood. Her mother convinced the principal to let her attend on a trial basis for a week. She distinctly remembers her mother emphatically telling her that it was really important that all the children were included and that everyone made it outside for recess. She didn’t know why her mother was being so intense but took it very seriously and promised she would make sure everyone was outside.
The first day of kindergarten, the principal went outside at recess to see how she did. He waited five minutes, 10 minutes — he waited until the bell rang, but Schmitt never made it outside. After school, the principle and her mother went to speak with the teacher to find out what had happened. The teacher said that Schmitt had had no problem putting her own shoes on — she had spent the entire recess trying to tie all of her friends’ shoes, because of course none of the other children could tie their shoelaces because they were all in kindergarten.
Schmitt believes this story is pertinent in illustrating the kinds of challenges she continues to face in the workplace. She tells another similar story of being passed over for a coaching opportunity by a new manager. A seasoned educator who personally taught many of the other candidates, Schmitt was the most qualified person for the position. When she approached the new manager to ask why she wasn’t selected, the woman told her that there were a lot of flipcharts in the course and whoever took on the position needed to be able to flip the flipcharts.