I’ve never had much of a problem with students telling me that I can’t be a part of a club or organization, because they see me as a person who can actively participate and contribute to the group. However, there have been many adult leaders who have worried about how the group as a whole would be perceived if there was a student with a disability in it- they saw me as a disability. I’ve been told my large print book might stick out from the other books, my blindness cane would make me appear to be helpless, and that my sensitivity to flashing lights was super inconvenient for them. Luckily, I have been able to make many friends through these activities that help me in different clubs. Here are some ways I have been able to encourage inclusion in extracurricular activities.
Explain things as simply as possible
No need to go into detail about diagnoses here. Explain your disability as it applies to receiving accommodations. For example, I tell people that I have issues reading small font and require size 22 font and equivalent picture size on materials. I also mention I have a case with the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired, so that way no one tries to argue with me if my low vision actually exists.
Talk to students in the group
When I was in a play my freshman year of high school, I was surrounded by cast members I had known since elementary and middle school, or that were in band as well. Because of this, no one ever really acknowledged I had a vision impairment, because they were so used to me needing large print or running into objects. Encourage members of the group to ask you questions if need be, but don’t worry about bringing up your disability every thirty seconds. I’ve found that students tend to be more accepting of people with disabilities than adults are.
Avoiding flashing lights
Flashing lights are a migraine trigger for me, and it’s impossible to shut out all flashing lights in the world. In a music ensemble I’m in, I wear very dark sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat to block out most of the flashing lights, and tend to keep my eyes closed when not playing. In other ensembles I’ve been in, the director would request the audience to avoid flash photography for the duration of the performance. Some directors would even tell the audience it was a migraine or seizure trigger. Chances are, you aren’t the only one who is sensitive to flashing lights, so it shouldn’t be a problem to request that they be limited.
Isolation is not the answer
A leader of a group decided that my disability was inconvenient to the other students, and moved me so that I was all by myself while everyone else was allowed to talk with others. As a result, a lot of students thought I was “the weird blind girl” and I had lots of difficulty making friends because people thought there was some deep reason as to why I was stuck alone. This problem was solved when a group of students noticed I had been outcast and asked me to join them. They didn’t mind that I needed large print or had trouble navigating. After that, I became much happier and felt more like a valued member of said group. If a leader is concerned about having a student with a disability, schedule a meeting where other staff members and students will be present so they can address their concerns.
Remember your rights
You have the right to be able to see, and to receive accessible materials. Do not let anyone say that the large print is too distracting or that they don’t think you need it, or that they don’t feel like providing it. It’s discrimination, after all, if they don’t let you be a part of a group because of your disability.
I have made many of my closest friends through extracurricular activities, and am grateful for the many things I have learned. With these tips, hopefully you will be able to succeed in whatever clubs interest you.