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Coming Together for ALL

Coming Together for ALL

Members of our PEAK staff recently joined fellow Parent Training and Information (PTI) and Community Parent Resource (CPRC) centers in Tacoma, WA for the Region D Parent Technical Assistance Center annual meeting.  PEAK is just one of many PTIs and CPRCs nationwide working to bring resources, information, and training to parents of children with disabilities and young self-advocates. This meeting is an opportunity to come together to network, collaborate,  and learn from experts to help us provide the best information and resources available to families in our state.

Tacoma is nestled next to the Puget Sound, just south of Seattle. As our flight prepared for landing, we circled near Mt. Rainier. It stood with grandfatherly wisdom high above the trees and communities below and seemed to say there is something majestic about this land. Indeed, there is!

The meeting began with a welcome from Puyallup tribal elder and leader, Connie McCloud - Miss Connie as she is known. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians have traditionally been known as the spuyaləpabš, meaning “generous and welcoming behavior to all people (friends and strangers) who enter our lands.”  Miss Connie spoke of the history of the Puyallup tribe from the days of abundance, living off the lush riches of the land and sea, to the time of the tuberculosis epidemic when tribal children were taken from their homes to boarding schools. Many were taken to the Cushman hospital to be experimented on and never returned home. The devastation Native Americans faced by forced removal from their homes and families is taking generations to overcome. Miss Connie detailed the high suicide and incarceration rates of the Puyallup youth today, having just the day before attended the funeral of a 14 year-old boy who died from opioid overdose. The tribe is one of the largest employers in Pierce County, but as Miss Connie mentioned, “child welfare laws continue to fail our children.” Like other American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native American peoples the Puyallup people continue to gather their identity. Miss Connie sang us a song in the Salish language in the tradition of her people singing to canoes coming into the Sound: ”We will help them, feed them, and share songs and dances.”

Nancy Freys picture

This opening ceremony was important in many ways: to know the history of America’s people, to hear their stories and the voices of their struggles and strengths. It also highlighted the intersection of American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native American people with the disability rights movement. People with disabilities too have been removed from their homes, experimented on, and segregated. In order to create healthy communities, each one of us has a responsibility to be open to all individuals and the gifts each of them contribute. At PEAK, we work to ensure communities include all children to ensure meaningful contribution in our society. We operate under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Aside from providing parent training and information, we do outreach work to ensure all people have access to the resources we provide. 

Over the 2 ½ days of our gathering we heard from Christina Mills, executive director of the California Foundation of Independent Living Centers and the creator of Youth Organizing! Disabled and Proud or YO! Disabled and Proud. Christina asked, “How do you get families to think and talk about having high expectations for their children?” and stressed that peer support is our number one asset in creating a culture of expectations for people with disabilities.

Michael McSheehan, project director with the Institute on Disability/UCED and former Coordinator for the School-wide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT Center), presented a session “Creating Equity Based Inclusive Education.” He reinforced the message that after 40 years of research there is NO evidence of any positive outcomes of segregation, and yet data point after data point shows us that students with and without disabilities make significant progress in inclusive settings. He asked why we continue to segregate diverse students when we’re in the same boat as we were back in 1989. Michael pointed us to several conversations in education pedagogy: “Teachers with diverse students become better teachers,” and, “Good instruction is good instruction regardless of whether you have students with disabilities.”

There were so many wonderful speakers and presenters - too many to detail for you today! We heard from Nancy Frey, Alex Gonzales, John Kenyon, Glenna Gallo, Beth Schaffner, PEAK’s Region D PTAC Youth Outreach Thought Partners and Outreach Cohort, and many more. We come home to Colorado refreshed with new perspectives and ideas ready to continue this journey of work so that inclusive schools and communities will be the norm, welcoming ALL.