When I was a teacher in the Israeli army I completely lost my voice for about a week. I could not talk at all. I found myself listening most of the time and not participating in ongoing conversations. It was frustrating. When I really wanted something though, I could write it down on a little note pad I carried around. I appreciated my voice a little more once it returned.
A few years ago, I injured my ankle and was on crutches for a couple of months. I learned how hard it is to get around using crutches and how a simple thing like taking my cup of coffee from the kitchen to my office can become a complicated task. Try it. Not wanting to rely on my family to fill what for me is a very basic need. (☻) I found a solution – pouring my coffee into a thermos, placing the thermos and a mug in a backpack, and you can imagine the rest.
Little incidents like this give us a quick experience to what life can be like for people with disabilities. What would it be like to have your mind intact, but not be able to communicate your thoughts and feelings to others? What if you also had no control over your body? In the book Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, eleven year old Melody has cerebral palsy. She has some control over her thumbs. That’s all. She can’t talk. She can’t walk. She can’t write. She’s extremely bright but no one knows it. She is stuck inside her head and it is making her go out of her mind.
Reading the book you feel Melody’s frustration with her inability to move and communicate her feelings and thoughts to the people around her. She wishes she could be like everyone else: “When I sleep, I dream. And in my dreams I can do anything. I get picked first on the playground for games. I can run so fast! I take gymnastics, and I never fall off the balance beam. I know how to square-dance, and I’m good at it. I call my friends on the phone, and we talk for hours. I whisper secrets. I sing.” Little, “normal” things we take for granted. Melody continues: “When I wake up in the morning, it’s always sort of a letdown as reality hits me.”
When she reaches 5th grade her school begins an inclusion program. Melody writes: “Now when the bell rings, instead of wondering what’s happening out there in the halls, I’m out there too. It’s awesome . . . Sometimes kids wave or say, ‘What’s up?’ Every once in a while someone will even walk with me to the next class. Cool. But ‘inclusion’ doesn’t mean I’m included in everything. I usually sit in the back of the room, going crazy because I know answers to things and can’t tell anybody.”
Later in 5th grade Melody gets her first Medi-Talker, completely expanding her ability to communicate. She writes, “’Hi, Dad. Hi, Mom. I am so happy.’ Mom gets all teary-eyed, and her nose gets red. She is looking at me all soft and gooey. When I think about it, I realize I have never, ever, said any words directly to my parents. So I push a couple of buttons, and the machine speaks the words I’ve never been able to say. ‘I love you.’”
Melody is inspiring. Taking on the challenges life has brought to her. Never giving up. As I read this book — and there is a lot more to the story but I don’t want this to be a spoiler — I was full of admiration of her and her family. Struggles and frustrations I was dealing with were viewed from a completely different perspective. Life for some can be so much harder . . .