by: Audrey King
Audrey King, M.A., is an internationally known writer, speaker, and advocate on disability issues. A trained rehabilitation psychologist she is the author of two books, Count Me In (1985) and There's Lint in Your Belly Button (1987), both of which focus on integration of persons with disabilities in society. Ms King has been using ventilator, electric wheelchair and personal assistance since 1952.
I came across a musty old high school diary the other day. Its turquoise fountain pen scribblings were still legible and the geranium leaf and red elastic band that I had carefully taped there nearly 50 years ago were still intact, although the brittle scotch tape affixing these treasures had long since ceased to do its job.
The geranium leaf had been snitched from the plant on Mr. Winter’s desk and the elastic had once graced his wrist. Mr. Winter was my science and home room teacher and I had an adolescent crush on him, noteworthy enough to generously fill the pages of my teenage diary.
The reasons for this were plenty. I had been absent from any community school for six years due to several years of hospitalization in another country following polio and, upon returning to Canada, exclusion from Ottawa’s school for disabled children because I was “too disabled”. Several lonely years of home tutoring and correspondence courses from the Ministry of Education in Toronto ensued until a new high school was built within “pushing” distance. Mr. Winters and Mr. Speers (the principal) welcomed the shy, withdrawn, overwhelmed child that I was by then and ensured that I became part of the entire school community. A ramp was built at the front door, school secretaries assisted with the washroom and other students helped with coats and books and notes and generally pushing me around the school. (There were no electric wheelchairs in those days.)
Mr. Winter taught biology, chemistry and physics. He unlocked the inside world of plants and animals… I was spellbound with wonder and awe and reverence to discover the secrets and mysteries of life. Mr. Winter believed in me and wanted me in his class. He visited me in hospital when I was forced back into the iron lung for a while. He encouraged my attendance at high school social events, often driving me to important intercollegiate events, lifting both me and my wheelchair in and out of his car. “Oops, something went!” he said one day as he landed me on the passenger seat of his car. Little did he know it was the safety pin holding my totally unecessary padded bra together at the back of my back brace. Little did he realize what a wonderful secret diary entry he had provided for that day!
A few years later I graduated from Grade 12 as the top student in that high school of 2500 and then went on to University and a rich rewarding career in psychology with special needs children. Mr. Winter, probably still unsuspecting of his tremendous importance during those difficult adolescent years, played a pivotal role in making this a reality.