Winsor’s Next Steps in Understanding and Discussing Ability

By, Sophie de C. ’19

On January 8, Winsor welcomed Kelsey Tainsh to speak to the student body and faculty on her experience with an identifier not often discussed in our school community: ability. At only five years old, Tainsh had a brain tumor and almost died as a result. 10 years after what she and her family thought was a successful surgery, the cancer returned to 15-year-old Tainsh. After her second surgery, she suffered a stroke from which she woke up paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak.

Upon returning to school in a wheelchair after her stroke, Tainsh lost all of her friends. It was Tainsh’s attitude and support from her family that got her through these hardships and her recovery. She later realized that her friends had not deserted her to be mean, but rather because they had identified her as “different” and did not know how to react any other way. Ms. W, Winsor’s guidance counselor, spoke to the idea that “our fear of discomfort gets in the way of making a change” in how we treat people who are differently abled. Ultimately, this discomfort around difference is what Ms. Tainsh tackled as she spoke to the Winsor community.

In her speech, Ms. Tainsh shared numerous personal stories alluding to her own approach to understanding and discussing ability. Jamila O. ’19, a head of Winsor’s Helping Hands Club that tackles this issue each Day 7 during lunch, notes that “many people aren’t aware of the significance of ability as an identifier and as a component of identity”. Helping Hands clubhead Karen T. ’19 emphasizes that “the conversation should not end with Ms. Tainsh’s visit,” an important first step in our community towards normalizing accessibility.

Hence, how should Winsor go on to approach understanding and discussing ability? In order to provide a context for our conversations, our community must become more aware of the relationship between ability and our own city of Boston.

Despite some accessibility issues heightened by snow and winter conditions, Boston actually has high ratings for accessibility overall, with its lowest ratings at a 4 out of 5 for wheelchair taxis, sidewalks, and public transportation (Morris). In order to gather feedback on the city’s accessibility, Boston issued its first-ever Accessibility Priority Survey in 2018, bringing in over 700 responses (“Message from the Commissioner: Accessibility Priority Survey Completed”). Other recent actions from the City’s government, including the “Imagine Boston 2030” and Government Center City Hall Plaza renovation plans, are among the city’s efforts to make public spaces throughout Boston more structurally accessible (“City of Boston Launches First-Ever Accessibility Survey,” “City Hall Plaza Comprehensive Renovation Announced”).

Boston also actively monitors its 3-1-1 non-emergency phone line which people can use to report instances like an illegally parked car in a handicapped spot. The City also exercises Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prevents the discrimination of individuals’ rights because of their disabilities. Stacey Hart, an ADA Trainer, Information and Outreach Specialist, and ICC Accessibility Inspector and Plans Examiner at the New England ADA Center believes, “The ADA itself has helped normalize accessibility. Now that we have accessible schools, public buildings, restaurants, transportation, etc. we see people with many different kinds of disability out in the community.”

To match the advances of the government and a number of organizations, the citizens of Boston must be equally responsible for creating a city that is considerate of people who are differently abled and that normalizes accessibility. As Ms. Hart shared, this issue is one that “communities must work [on] together in order to succeed.” It is important to keep our city’s government accountable and to continue to increase the standards of accessibility with which Boston has kept up. However, as inspired by Ms. Tainsh’s talk, we have come to understand that it is one thing for a place to have accessibility, but it is another thing to want to have it.

In the end, having an accessible environment is really just the acceptance of people who are differently abled and thus, in the eyes of society, “less-than.” A reflection from Ms. Hart indicates that “our society is still uncomfortable with people who are different than the norm,” but clubhead of Helping Hands Araybia G. ’19 expresses the club’s mission to “show people that they do not have to act a certain way around people with disabilities. They just want to be treated normally and be accepted for who they are.” As proposed by Naomi Goldberg, the Assistant Director for Client Services at the Massachusetts Office on Disability, the step that society–and Winsor–must take from here is approaching this issue with a mentality of equality rather than pity.