I was over at my mum’s the other day, and she’s going through her old papers and so on, and she digs out a couple of letter from Dr Heinz Stinkelwurter, my old opthalmologist (eye doctor) when I was a kid.
One is to my parents when I was about 4, saying that the cataracts I was born with are nothing to do with any inherited defects, so they really needn’t feel guilty. (There goes the extra dollop in the will.)
The other is to the Department of Education, about 5 years later, saying that he’s been told that I’ve been sent to a special school for visually impaired kids and is absolutely horrified. He has, he says, had occasion before to ‘rescue’ children from the special education system, and he urges that I should be returned to mainstream education as soon as possible, since I can see well enough to be able to cope, and it’ll be much better for my social and educational development in the long run.
Anyway I read this with a mounting sense of rage and a desire to march round to Dr Stinklewurzer’s house (being long dead, he’s safe) and punch him. Nobody ever asked ME what I wanted and what I could cope with – not then, not ever. The good doctor’s ‘rescue’ meant that I was moved suddenly from a school where I was popular and happy among all the other half-blind kids with pink eyes and goggles, to a school where I was instantly labelled a weirdo and cast out more thoroughly than the woman with the scarlet letter.
I was given no extra help by hard-pressed public school teachers. I failed Chemistry (couldn’t read the board), Maths (couldn’t read the board), Physics (couldn’t see well enough to manage the various experiments), Woodwork and Sewing (quel disaster!) and only did well in history and English because all you had to do was read books (which I could do, and did).
Things are different now. Kids with disabilities are given special helpers and assistive technology. Parents sometimes ask, and listen. Ms M goes out of her way to be kind to other kids who seem to be having a hard time, and I go out of my way to listen to what she needs to tell me – and those things, too, Dr Stinkelwurzer, are down to you.
So thank you Dr Stinkelwurzer for ‘rescuing’ me. And now that I’ve got THAT off my chest! I’ll go have a nice cup of tea!