What’s it like to go through public school with a disability?
Because we work alongside families with children and teens who have disabilities, we are aware of the huge network of support needed to help children of all ages with their mobility and accessibility needs. We also realize that those physical needs may only play a supporting role in what’s required to get differently abled students successfully though school.
Alex Tracoff, now in her twenties, was born with a serious birth defect that dramatically restricts blood flow to her heart and lungs. Because of that physical disability, her health as well as her mobility was severely compromised. Alex uses a stairlift at home and drives a car with a disabled tag on her license plate. But at first glance, you might not know Alex had a disability at all.
Here is Alex’s story:
“I was born early with a disability, so it’s all I’ve ever known. I saw a lot of doctors when I was young, but I didn’t think that much about it. I guess I thought everyone had lots of doctor appointments.
“As I got older, I realized I was different. It was impossible for me to keep up physically with the other kids. I couldn’t run or swim, couldn’t play soccer or softball. I needed to come in and rest when my brother, sister and friends stayed outside to play.
“By middle school, I was beginning to fully comprehend what was going on with my body. I have what is called Pulmonary Atresia. I don’t have a right pulmonary artery which means my heart has to pump twice has hard for me to do anything, even breathe. My oxygen saturation levels are about 70% of normal. Climbing a flight of stairs or walking more than a block is difficult for me.
“I had to explain this a lot in middle school because from the outside, I seemed like a normal teenager. I didn’t want to stand out and hated being made fun of, which happened every once in awhile.
“In high school, I became more comfortable talking about what I was dealing with. I had to take a full year of freshman gym class in order to graduate from Hamilton Southeastern. The school was very good about accommodating my needs. They made sure I didn’t get overheated and drove me onto the baseball field on a golf cart on hot days when I needed the help.
“In my junior year, I began missing school because my immune system had to fight extra hard to keep me healthy. I was assigned a Resource Teacher who got homework sent home to me and helped me catch up so I could stay on track. I needed extra time to get to my classes, had to have an elevator pass, and had a wheelchair on standby in case of fire or other school emergency.
“I feel fortunate to have had five or six good close friends who took the time to look past my disability and really get to know me. They were accommodating and accepting, which helped immensely. It was great having a group of friends to do all the social things you want to do in high school – like going to football games, dances, that sort of thing.
“Looking back, I hope being in schools with lots of other healthy kids helped everyone better understand people like me with disabilities. They could see all the normal stuff about me – while appreciating my differences. That’s kind of what everybody wants, isn’t it? Not to be judged like a book by it’s cover. You want people to get to know your full story.”
– Alex Traycoff, Fishers resident