Updated: Jun 25, 2021
By Laura Bratton
Just a few months before I started third grade I was diagnosed with an eye disease. My vision was deteriorating, and I would eventually become blind. So as I started the new school year, my parents were faced with a decision regarding my education. They were told that I would have to leave my current school and go to school in another city. Being a teacher, my mom knew that I was completely capable of staying in the same school. She knew that if I received the appropriate accommodations I could complete third grade just like everyone else. For example, by sitting at the front of the classroom, using large-print textbooks, and a magnifier for worksheets I would be able to complete the assignments. My parents also knew that I would greatly benefit from being around all types of students; those without disabilities as well as those with different types of disabilities. So my parents were determined that I would stay in the mainstream school system.
The following is an excerpt from my book Harnessing Courage, which describes the impact of my parents’ decision to keep me in my regular classes:
“I will never forget speaking to a class of middle schoolers one year when I was home from college. Before I spoke, I was in the school office. A lady walked up to me and said, “Please tell your parents thank you for the work that they did.” I looked up at her, confused; I had no clue what she was talking about. I was giving the talk in a different school district than the one in which I grew up. She added, “Because of the work that your parents did for you to keep you in regular public school, countless other children who came behind you are also able to stay in public school.” I stood in the office of that school not sure how to respond. I replied with a simple, “Oh, that is great!” However, it just did not seem like enough. I was excited and touched to know that the bravery my parents displayed not only benefited me, but it also benefited many other children we will never know.”
I am grateful beyond words that I had the opportunity for inclusive education for two main reasons. First, I was able to receive the same level of education my peers received. Teachers expected me to perform at the same level as the other students. Yes, of course, I received the needed accommodations such as twice as much time to complete tests. However, once the accommodations were in place, I was held to the same standard. I learned that I could not use my blindness as an excuse for not performing at a high level.
The second reason I am grateful for inclusive education is because of the socialization I received. Being around students who did not have a disability as well as students who had different types of learning disabilities taught me how to advocate for my needs. For example, I learned how to ask a friend for help when I needed to find the correct lunch table in the cafeteria. I developed the ability to communicate my needs clearly so that I could interact with all students. Receiving the same level of education and socialization as other students gave me the tools I needed to live a productive and full life. For the gift of my parents advocating for me: I am grateful. For the opportunity of inclusive education: I am grateful.
Laura Bratton was born and raised in South Carolina. She graduated from Arizona State University in 2006. In 2010, Laura was the first blind student to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. Laura is the pastor at Laurens Road United Methodist Church and founder of Ubi Global LLC. She is the author of Harnessing Courage. Visit Laura’s website at www.ubiglobal.org.