Monday, May 4, 2015

Why are disabled students singled out for 'chores?'

By Louise Kinross

A few year's back it was suggested to me that a great co-op placement for my son was to work in a school separating the garbage and recycling. My son had no great interest in garbage, or recycling, so I didn't buy the rationale and nuked that idea.

Many high schools have students with disabilities do the recycling as a regular activity. I'm not sure why these students, over any other student, need to learn this skill at school, or why we want to give their peers the idea that students with disabilities have a special passion or proclivity for it? It seems to me that if students are being called upon to do the garbage and recycling then all students should take part.

This morning Ellen Seidman at Love That Max reports on another example of disabled students being singled out for chores that no other students do.

At Big Blueberry Eyes, Michelle learns that part of the curriculum in a self-contained Grade 6 class for her daughter will involve washing the uniforms for the school football team.

"The thing is this: I am not sending my child to middle school to learn to do laundry," writes Michelle. "Especially not the laundry of the football team. It doesn't matter if it happens once a week, once a month, once a quarter, or once a year. One time is one time too many. Even one time is not acceptable."

In addition to the fact that using a washing machine isn't typically on the middle school curriculum, if you want to teach kids the mechanics of washing clothes, shouldn't they have to do their own stinky ones? Why should the sweat-drenched football jerseys be carted over to the special-needs class?

Unfortunately, this scenario reminds me of a parent who went with her young adult daughter with Down syndrome to find out about job opportunities through the Ontario Disability Support Program. They were told that every single job included cleaning a bathroom. Now, bathrooms need to be cleaned, and I don't have a problem with students being given this responsibility. But when we specifically single out students with disabilities, and tell them that for some reason this particular task is attached to the only jobs they are eligible for, something is seriously wrong.


When I was growing up, the kids in Special Education, worked in the cafeteria and other such jobs as part of their Vocational Education. Those that could, that is. Some of the non Spec ED kids also worked a few hours a week in the offices, audio visual aids dept, athletic dept, etc, but not in the more menial jobs that were reserved for Special Ed. I don't agree with doing this on site as it puts an early label on the kids, though when it comes to Vocational Education programs for high school, those are realistically the jobs that many of the kids in special education can do in terms of possible jobs after they finish school.

Sadly, school is a nirvana compared to finding a living wage job doing ANYTHING for those who have handicaps that need a lot of accommodations. Most employers require accommodations in kind, when hiring those who who need them, and because many of those kids are limited as to what they give in exchange for changes in their job scrip, it comes down to the less desirable jobs. That's real life. The woman who cleans for me, periodically brings her niece who is cognitively challenged, and, yes, she gives the young woman the toilets to clean and the other more difficult jobs, not the lighter easier jobs. There is a pecking order or hierarchy in jobs, and when you are limited as to what you can do, the less skilled jobs are what you are going to get.

However, starting this pattern in Middle school or in non voc ed programs of high school is too early and hurts in the integration of those students who need extra resources with the general population. and I would decline having my children so assigned. Unfortunately, though, this is often a glimpse of what the future may hold for those with disabilities.

I am glad you spoke up about this, too. It is deplorable. It is also yet more unnerving that other parents are sharing similar ongoings at schools.... Someone on my Facebook page just shared that the special ed class at her high school washes the cafeteria tables and sweeps the floor.

This is so interesting. On facebook, this post was beside another that you posted, Louise, about a charity shop that trains and hires people with disabilities. To me, vocational training that is respectful of future employees, employers and customers/clients would link the skills required in future job possibilities with training at school. Where schools fail in this regard is that they just 'dump' repetitive, unskilled tasks on to kids with disabilities. This misses an opportunity for all the kids. The Junior Achievement model is a great one and can be used in schools. So, for example, the school football uniforms need to be washed. This could be a business model for teaching kids sorting, stain removal, folding, time management, machine operation, HR management, invoicing, banking, etc. The money paid for the service doesn't have to be a lot, but it sends a message to all concerned that the service has worth. In our local community centre, there are people with disabilities who wipe tables, water plants, remove standing puddles of water from shower areas, and helping out in the daycare etc. Everyone who works at the centre has different abilities and interests. Because the common lounge area is 'the living room of the neighbourhood', everyone knows these young people and their families. Their contributions are valued. Teaching skills that will enable people to be employable is tricky and time consuming. Community partners that understand the elements and amplify appreciation are critical to success.

I have been meaning to come over and thank you for sharing my blog post!

Where I disagree with assuming and placing kids where the sole purpose of doing the work is to just give them something to do or supposedly teach a life skill, sometimes there might be other reasons for a child doing these things. As we met for my child's latest IEP they had identified heavy work as something they really recognized as helpful. It is not an avoidance but something they have learned over the years that helps them to focus, regulate the need for movement etc. So when they expressed this and the IEP team asked if there were anything specific in mind they'd like to do...the response of my child was to help the janitor do some cleaning. I wanted to scream NO!!! I thought about it and there was no precedent where they have seen other children with disabilities doing this. It came from their inner desire to do something that they'd enjoy and fill two purposes. Their educational aspirations go far beyond this and so it is not coming from a desire to have a "life skill for employment". It was student driven. The team asked questions and there was no automatic SURE! But it was clearly an easy way to fill the need. I'm hopeful it will go well as they are moving into a new school and 7th grade can be tough with perceptions from others. So instead of some traditional OT they figured a way to fit something in that would truly help. I hope no one will assume that we are forcing them into a life of janitorial work because that is all they are capable of. I know that this is not the case. I share this simply to say that we should also consider other reasons why some things might provide beneficial supports to a student. But FULLY agree with the point of this article! Thank you for sharing.

I am the parent of a child with multiple disabilities (Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism). She is now 16 and a Jr. in High school. I have let it be known very vocally that she WILL NOT participate in the recycling program at school because people with disabilities have more interests than just the 3 F's - Food, Filth, and Flowers. Her peers need to see her as an equal not as their servant.

Yes, all are worthy jobs and valuable but people with disabilities do have other interests and skills. She helps out with some of these at home along with her other 4 sisters. And she may have to do one or more of these at a job someday, but it won't be in high school and she'll be given many opportunities to explore others.

I would encourage everyone here to watch a documentary called "Best Kept Secret" where a special ed teacher follows up with her adult students to see where they are at after graduation -- she is disgusted by what she finds. In particular, she sees how the students have regressed as a result of what they are now doing/not doing. One man wanted to work in a fast food restaurant. He LOVED greeting customers etc. But next thing you know they are trying to make him wash the toilets. His "job coach" is standing at the door giving orders for what he shoudl do - not daring to actually show him by touching the equipment. He is later let go. Disgusting.
Another student is in a work-placement where he sits all day long doing the same manual boring labour job imaginable. No one would want to be doing this job - NO ONE! It is immediately boring, with no redeeming features at all - no interest, no interaction, nothing. An automaton. The belief that people who are developmentally delayed would be satisfied with being bored with such meaningless activities is a myth in the minds of those people who want to feel justified in having them do this type of activity. The teacher was extremely upset upon seeing this, and the student was lashing out at her initially - out of total frustration - and had stopped talking.

This is truly dreadful. I can't imagine the famous genius STEPHEN HAWKING being expected dto do this type of meaningless work - can you??? Yet why is it that the world ASSUMES that just because someone cannot talk, they must be entirely without thinking or feelings?

Currently at my son's school, Lafayette High in Lexington, KY, they have only special needs kids emptying trash. Several years ago (about 2009) they had an environmental club that (based on the yearbook photo) was all kinds of kids & they did the building recycling. Someone got the big idea the next year to have only kids with moderate-to-severe disabilities to do all the building recycling. They are called The Green Team & are pictured as such in the yearbook. The school considers this vocational training. My friend complained to the principal, who saw nothing wrong with it. :(
This is the old fashioned way of thinking of jobs for kids with disabilities - The 5 F's -
Folding, Fetching, Flowers, Food, & Filth

First of all, at the school my son went to ALL students were required to wash the cafeteria tables. Second, did anyone ask these students the important question, "Do you want to do the recycling?" Have you had a conversation with the general education student and asked them what they really thought about that special ed. student washing the uniforms? To the person who reported about the young man who did not want to clean the toilets but just wanted to greet the customers: most employees are cross trained when they work in fast foods and yes, part of working in a restaurant like that involves cleaning toilets. How many companies can afford to hire people just to greet customers? I once had a parent who was very upset that her son was not getting a "good job." Her husband was a doctor and she was the office manager. I had a student in my vocational class who loved to talk on the phone. She had both learning and physical disabilities. I asked that parent to hire my student to call patients and remind them of appointments. The response I got, "We don't have the time and money to hire someone just to do that job." She sure wanted someone else to do that for her own child. Lastly, yes, it is training when we can teach students good work habits. That sure is something all high school students need to learn. My husband can't find employees to arrive on time, put down their cell phones, communicate with customers, and put in a full 8 hour day.

Regardless of whether someone has a disability, any task assigned by the school, or at home, needs a purpose attached. It is one thing to say "because so and so needs to learn skills that are marketable, we will include cleaning skills training by helping in the cafeteria. We will also include skills x, y, and z either through classroom training or by helping out with this other thing." It is totally something different to say "oh, look, someone we considered severely disabled! Hand them a wiping rag." The first is about building the person and their skills. The second is about pigeon-holing and limiting them for the sake of your convenience.

I work in West Virginia, where the kids in special education classes go to Walmart to stock shelves - without pay! Parents come to my partner and myself to help get their kids into real education programs and more appropriate IEP's. In one case, a high school student wanted to learn about cooking and math skills, but the schools sent him to Walmart. Parents can fight this, and we need to call discrimination and slave labor what it is.

Excellent article! Thank you for speaking out for those who can't!

What the heck happened to janitors cleaning up the school? Isn't this what they are usually hired for? And why kids with learning disabilities? This is slave labor, no doubt about it.

We need to get angry about the budget cuts that have been applied to schools, and to have them reversed-this is just completely unacceptable, and close to what Bernard Coard wrote about in a 1970 book that was happening to black kids.

I am a special education teacher and an in home caregiver for mentally disabled adults in Canada and have worked with the disabled for 38+ years. I am torn on this issue. I agree that it should not become the responsibility of the special ed classes to do the dirty work in the school. They are not employed as care takers and there SHOULD be funds available to employ these positions in the school board's budget (however cutbacks indicate other). Special Ed kids need to learn functional academics, social skills and other life skills just as all other students do.

However, I also have seen the advantage of giving meaningful hands on and employable skill oriented responsibilities to all students, especially at the junior and senior high school levels. I guess that maybe it depends on the nature of the job and the attitude of the people in the school towards this.

It is reasonable that jobs like recycling, doing school laundry or and cleaning the cafeteria be a job skill for some individuals. Along side of this, it is important to teach skills like initiative, responsibility, and pride in your job. Depending on the student, some may be fortunate enough to actually gain meaningful employment in the service industry as adults and this skills learned in school are good ones to add to a resume.

I want to ask the mother who was appalled when her daughter had to wash the football laundry, where she thinks her daughter is going to be in another 10 or 20 years In an office as an executive secretary? As a pilot? As a teacher? Give me a break! It's time to get realistic!!! I know that not all Downs Syndrome kids are severely intellectually handicapped (some do quite well and can lead a life as most adults in our society do), but many of them are. These are the ones generally found in those special ed classes with other cognitively handicapped kids.

As an adult I would hope that this girl becomes meaningfully employed doing a job that she is competent at and feels proud of doing. If she is intelligent enough and has had the right support, then she likely has learned some of these skills at school and was reinforced at home that this is a good thing and she should be proud of her accomplishments. And IF she is fortunate enough to get paid employment in a place like a laundry service, hotel or wherever, then she has done well. Not all are so fortunate.

I have seen my students get full time paid employment in such areas as automotive shops, recycling plants, bottle depots, restaurants and cafeterias, hospitals and universities as caretakers, and there is absolutely NO SHAME in that at all. They are good jobs. They earn extra money to supplement their disability income and can live a better quality of life because of this and the fact that they feel good about what they do, have peers and are not stuck at home in front of the tv every day.

On the flip side, I have also seen students that do end up being stuck at home without friends or any real purpose because of well meaning, ignorant parents who want to shelter them. Often these people's skills deteriorate and they eventually end up as depressed and as unfunctionable/ dependent adults. These same individuals get even more lost when the parents eventually have to give them up because they're too old and are dying. It happens ALL THE TIME! Then they have nothing.
If they had a job and a life outside of the family, things would be different and they could still maintain part of their life despite the loss of their family...... Unfortunately, I have seen it happen over and over again. It is sad and is unnecessary.

Bottom of the line, the more encouragement and skills given at an early age, the better the chances are for transferability in those skills as an adult in both employment and in life. ALL kids deserve a future. If it starts by learning to work with others by cleaning a cafeteria every day, or sorting the school's recycling, then in my opinion, that's ok too.

I go to a very service-oriented school. If there is a chore program, everyone should be given the opportunity to participate. My peers would jump at the chance to help out in any way, even dirty work.

I am so glad that someone finally brought this topic up. I think the goal of special needs school is to enable each student to become a confident and successful learner inspite of their limitations.

Spending. Your life doing crap. Work. Because. Your disabled. And can't do. Anything other than service jobs is not a good quality of life it's horrible and sad if that was you would u want to be like that. Get. Disblity and. Work mim wage. I'd rather be shot or raped

I have been saying this too since my son started in a DD class. They say they are teaching them "life skills" then have them pick up the trash and recycling for the rest of the school and sort it. No. This is making them a servant underclass. It disgusts me. How about teaching All the kids in the school to do this and make them reconsider the trash they create in the first place. The work placements they find for them are things like busing tables and stocking shelves. NO. My son can do more than that. He will do something that relates to his interests and that he will find personally rewarding. I am not going to school him to become a drone.

I think my thoughts lie somewhere in the middle. I think there are opportunities for learning within a school that require people to think outside of the box. Having the chance to work on life skills and practice tasks that benefit development and future employment is sometimes better than having a child sit in a pre-calculus class with their peers just to be "included". This is especially important in high school as kids are working towards university and post secondary employment. I want my child to learn how to handle money, how to plan a trip to the grocery store, how to organize things, practice time management with various tasks . . . . I don't want them to go to school for an education and come out with a piece of paper that says they sat through all the required classes with their peers.I want them to actually learn and develop skills and doing everything the same way as their "typically developing" peers is not going to achieve that. Difference is ok. Inclusion is not assimilating everyone in the same box. There needs to be a happy medium between inclusion and requiring children with disabilities to be like their peers and do everything the same way their peers do. Do I think kids with disabilities should be washing the toilets and just doing dirty laundry . . . . no, of course not. But do I think that creative programming could have them integrated with their peers and also working on their own individualized plan. Absolutely.
The key is in the programming and progressing the tasks within the program as goals are achieved. We have no special Education schools in my province. All children of all abilities attend school together with accommodations, modifications and individualized planning when needed. I can understand the views on each side and think that maybe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.