by Natalie Perlov on Friday, February 6th, 2015
Earlier this year, Maysoon Zayid graced one of Milton’s Wednesday second period assemblies as the 2015 Margaret A. Johnson speaker. Zayid, a comedian and actress who suffers from cerebral palsy, described the obstacles she has had to overcome both in her industry and throughout her life as a result of her disability. Her presentation prompted many of us to think about how Milton accommodates the disabled. Though Milton tries to cultivate an environment that is supportive of everyone’s different backgrounds, religion, sexual orientations, races, and skill-sets, how accommodating is Milton to mental and physical disabilities?
Milton’s culture and diversity—both academically and socially—is reasonably conducive to students who may possess disabilities. For example, Milton’s discussion-based curriculum, which highlights Harkness tables to communicate face-to-face with one’s classmates, would allow a deaf student to read students’ lips more easily than the alternative of lecture-style seating in rows. Additionally, the discussion-based environment encourages students, regardless of physical or mental factors, to engage in the Socratic method—absorbing information and contributing their own ideas. The majority of Milton’s students are open-minded individuals: a member of the community who walks differently because of a physical disability or talks differently because of a mental disability wouldn’t be made fun of by peers.
Furthermore, Milton offers many services designed to help students emotionally. These services include counseling from the Health Center and from the team of Independent Student Support members. For academic support there is peer tutoring available and out-of-class meetings with teachers. Students with disabilities who need a little extra support can seek out one of Milton’s trained professionals or an ISS member. Counselors on campus may offer professional advice and care to a student if he or she is struggling with a disability. Peer tutors can sit down with both the student and his or her teacher to help come up with a plan that will best benefit the student.
Though many facets of Milton enable the school to support all students, Milton is a rigorous prep school, not built with the specific needs of students with disabilities in mind. Milton lacks crucial faculties to help students with certain physical and mental abilities. Milton’s staff and students are caring, yet Milton does not have trained professionals to help blind students or interpreters for deaf students. Milton’s curriculum can be fast paced and intensely competitive at times, a pace that is not conducive to a student with Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Furthermore, Milton’s campus and many of its buildings are not compatible with physical disabilities. The daily trek from Pritzker to the top of Ware is hard enough when you’re able-bodied; imagine attempting that route in a wheelchair or with cerebral palsy. Most of our buildings are old, and few have elevators, making transport between classes even more of a struggle. Forbes is too hectic and crowded; it would be nearly impossible for a physically disabled student to maneuver his way through the masses to get food and find a comfortable place to eat. Furthermore, King Theater doesn’t even have handicapped seats for the physically disabled or interpreters for shows. Milton’s widespread campus, the inaccessibility of many of its buildings, and a bustling Centre Street simply do not suit the needs of the physically disabled.
Milton can, and probably should, update some of its facilities in order to better suit the disabled. Milton could best meet the demands of the physically disabled by installing elevators and adding handicapped seats to crowded areas (i.e. King, the ACC, Forbes). However, there are other problems that Milton just can’t fix. For example, Milton can’t change its mission as a competitive prep school to better suit a student with severe mental disabilities. In many respects, Milton is accommodating to the disabled; however, in other respects, Milton cannot suit the needs of the mentally and physically disabled.
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