(Editor's Note: The following letter is reprinted from Newsbriefs, the ACLD newsletter.)
Dear Mayor :
I have been a visitor in your community for the past two weeks. The reason for my visit was to present five-day graduate courses to teachers on the subject of providing an effective education to handicapped children. I have been here three times previously on the same mission, under the auspices of University and the school system in-service program. I have always had a wonderful reception in your community and feel genuinely close to the people and lifestyle in this region. I am writing to draw your attention to something in your community that perhaps you might reconsider. I am a runner, and while out on one of my forays into the neighborhood surrounding the Holiday Inn, I encountered Park on Street. I noticed a fenced- in area that is obviously a playground for young children. On both ends of this enclosed area are signs designating the playground as being solely for the use of handicapped children. I believe the signs say something to the effect that "This play area is only for the handicapped."
I am certain that this was done with the best intentions. On the face of it, to reserve a place for handicapped children, much like a parking space for an adult, would seem to be the mark of an enlightened society. However, the parking space analogy doesn't hold. The park signs promote the idea that handicapped children should be kept apart from "normals" for either their own good or safety, or for the good of the "normals," or perhaps to insure that they will have a "place." Herein lies the crux of the matter. The "place" for handicapped children is within our society, intermingled in the normal population. All current state and federal legislation for the handicapped speaks to this point.
In the worst possible scenario at the park that one can conjure up, a group of handicapped children are playing within the confined area while normal children are crowded around the outside of the fence looking in. The image of a freak show is fairly obvious.
Please do not misunderstand the point. I saw normal children playing in the area. I am absolutely certain that no restrictions whatever are placed on whoever chooses to use the facilities. It is the signs that need to be removed. They convey an idea that is presently abhorred by nationally known experts and the general public.
Please consider this request as one that seeks to help you improve your community and to demonstrate that you are not lagging behind in efforts all across the country to integrate the handicapped into the mainstream of our society. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Lawrence M. Lieberman
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