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An Open Letter…

12 Apr

I haven’t blogged in a while. Life has been busy, in this stage of life Down syndrome often takes the back burner to the “normalcy” of life (whatever that means!!), and raising four little boys and running a thriving small business hasn’t left me with much time left over.  It is my heart, however, to continue to grow as an advocate, and it is with this in mind that I could not keep silent regarding our experience as of late.

As a little byte of context, I had emailed this organization back in February to inquire about both of my older kiddos enrolling in their tee ball program. I did mention in the email that Jake has a diagnosis of Down syndrome, but I mentioned it not as a question as to his eligibility to attend the program, but more as a point of opening discussion about how to best help him thrive in the program. They responded to me by telling me that they have not had great experiences in the past with children with disabilities, and that I should pursue another program for him, a response which completely took me by surprise.

I wrote them a letter back, explaining my position and identifying why I was so disappointed in their decision, and they have not contacted me. I am sharing the letter I wrote to them, with the hope that as a society we can start holding organizations accountable to more. To equal opportunity. To pursuing inclusive environments. To the ideology that every child is valuable and important.  For I believe we would all agree that Jake deserves so much more.

 

To the organizers of Centennial Little League,

As I sit here and write this, even a month after receiving your email regarding my son’s participation in your T-Ball program, I continue to be profoundly disappointed in your interaction with me. I will not be registering any of my four children in Centennial Little League, but I felt it important to share with you my thoughts on this experience. Perhaps your life has not been touched by disability in the same way that ours has, and so I do not want to assume that you would think through things in the same manner as we do.

First off, I wanted to share with you our vision for our son, and the lens through which we try and make the best decisions possible for him.

You should know that as parents of a child with a disability growing up in this generation, we are seeking to provide our child with the most inclusive lifestyle possible. Jake is a vivacious, fun-loving, energetic 5-year old with an amazing personality and the ability to draw people to himself. He is fully included, with supports, in a mainstream Kindergarten class in our local school. He plays soccer in our community soccer club, and they have been phenomenal at adjusting to suit his level when need be, but have also understood the importance of community sports and relationships. He has been enrolled in the past in gymnastics, in swimming, in summer camps, and the list goes on. All of these activities listed have been in the community, alongside his brothers or friends, and in the context of other typical children his age.

We firmly believe, and all the research done would back up our stance, that the inclusion of children with disabilities in community settings not only benefits the child with the disability, but also provides numerous benefits for all of the children with whom the child interacts. Lessons on acceptance, respect, diversity, kindness, friendship, and celebrating differences are crucial, and to promote these life lessons in everyday encounters is vital to the health and wellness of every child, typical or not.  I am trying to raise my children to understand and recognize that we treat all people as equal, regardless of race, gender, or disability; and that to do otherwise is discrimination, and is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.

It is with this ideology in mind that you can imagine my discouragement when I received your email and realized that you would not be willing to register my child for your program. We are disappointed in your decision, and in your organization’s position on my son, and by proxy, other children with disabilities.

Whatever the reasoning was behind your decision, you need to know that it is very disconcerting. I am quite certain, especially after reading the by-laws of your organization, that you would not discourage entrance into your program based on gender or race. It confuses me, then, that you would deny my child the opportunity to play in your organization based on disability. And on top of that, that it would be a decision that you made without having ever met, talked to, or interacted with my child.

I also wanted to point out some key phrases from your very own Centennial Little League by-laws for your consideration.

Under the description of the T-Ball program, it states the following as the goals of the program: “Young players are introduced to the game of baseball. They learn, develop and practice fundamental baseball skills at an early age to receive maximum enjoyment from the experience. Emphasis is placed on participation and enjoying their first baseball experience.”  Your Vision Statement states that: “Centennial Little League is devoted to providing opportunities for boys and girls alike by establishing an ongoing foundation of support for all athletes to reach their full potential”.  Your eligibility section states that: “Any person sincerely interested in active participation in the league may apply to become a member”.

All of these statements from your own by-laws make it seem like Centennial Little League would be an organization that would be committed to providing a great experience for my children. If my ultimate goal had been to provide an experience for my son where he was playing alongside other peers with disabilities, I would have looked into a different program to begin with. But to my husband and I, the ultimate goal was participation and enjoyment of sport, and the ability to do this in the context of being able to play alongside his siblings and friends.

I end this letter not as an angry parent, but rather as one who is trying to be the best advocate possible. I sincerely hope that this letter gives you pause, calls you to re-evaluate your decision as it pertains to many families hoping to foster a love for the game of baseball in their children, and causes you to rethink your stance regarding similar situations in the future.

Sincerely,

Karyn Slater

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11 Comments

Posted by on April 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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11 responses to “An Open Letter…

  1. Lorna Lillo

    April 12, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Hi, I was saddened to read your blog about this organizations blatant discrimination against your child with a disability. I know it is possible (especially at the age of 5) for any child to fully participate in T Ball, it just takes the willingness of the coach to allow it to happen.
    I wish you and your family all the best and commend you for being such a strong advocate for your children.

     
    • karynslater

      April 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Lorna,
      Thank you so much for the kind words. I am definitely working on the advocacy piece, but I do definitely appreciate the support of the “village” when it comes to matters like this. Thank you so much:)

       
      • Michael

        April 13, 2017 at 10:39 am

        Get it together Centennial Little League. If you are not going to allow Jake to play, at least have the baseballs to give the family a proper response and reason why.

         
  2. Joselyn

    April 13, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Karyn, where are you located. I would love to have your little guy in my tball program.

     
    • karynslater

      April 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Hi Joselyn,
      Thanks so much for your kind words:)
      We are located in Calgary, AB, Canada:)

       
  3. Craig

    April 14, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Karyn.

    I saw your story on Global news.

    I can honestly sympathize with you and your husband and can understand your anger and frustration.

    I am a dad who has been active in the sports community volunteering my time for several hours a week for a number of years, who had the opportunity to coach a child last year with down syndrome. It was a great experience and I learned a tonne about myself as a coach and as an individual. However it was very challenging and I struggled at times to the point I questioned myself as a coach. As tough as it was, I would not have changed a single thing about the kids I coached or the season we all had together.

    Can I ask if you and your husband volunteer your time to coach your sons teams? Or do you just expect the coaches to come up with different coaching strategies, drills, exercises, etc for children with disabilities? Do you expect us as coaches to know different methods to communicate with your son effectively?

    You have to remember we are just the average “dads” who at some point in our lives played different levels of sport and want to give our time back to the community. We do NOT have the proper training to coach and teach kids with varying levels of disabilities.

    It is very easy to come down on, and criticize an organization or a coach from the sidelines.

    Just curious

    Craig

     
    • karynslater

      April 14, 2017 at 10:30 pm

      Hi Craig,
      Thank you so much for your comment:) I really appreciated it, and I value the discussion and open dialogue. It is so awesome to me that you got to have that experience last year, and that ultimately (despite the challenges) you would say that you wouldn’t have changed anything about your experience. To me, that is key…that while it wasn’t perfect, and while you did have struggles, it was worth it in the end. That is my goal from this advocacy piece…for more people to recognize the benefits and positives that come from inclusive environments (not just for my kid, but for everyone involved).
      Having said that, my husband and I also completely understand that the majority of the population does not deal with disability on a regular basis, and that they do not always know how to best handle Jake! In every thing that Jake has been a part of (especially in our local soccer club) either my husband or I have been an added “coach” or “helper” on the team…there specifically to help Jake be able to succeed. We by no means want to put volunteer coaches in a situation that they would not have the resources to handle. Never! We want him to have these experiences, but we have also made sacrifices to ensure that he is able to have such experiences without overwhelming coaches or leaders who may not have a ton of experience.
      And again, in no way was this meaning to come down on an organization, except to say that they did not even open the discussion. Had the discussion been opened, they would have learned right away that we are very involved parents who want to help everyone have a successful experience, and we would have been able to work towards a plan to make that happen. That was the disappointing part for me. Hope that provides some clarity…and again, thank you so much for opening up the discussion and dialogue:) And thanks for volunteering your time to your community:)

       
    • Sherry-Lynn

      April 15, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      The big problem, IMO, is that they didn’t even give her or her husband the opportunity to volunteer. They seem to have had a preconceived idea of what this child would be like…they decided that ALL children with disabilities fit into the same little box and therefore must all be treated the same way. I’ve volunteered in sports that both my kids were involved in, and I have seen many kids who didn’t have any sort of disability but are “challenging” in other ways. T-ball is a FAR cry from the major leagues and most kids can be involved and when there are additional challenges, parents can be asked to be an active part of things so that no one is left struggling to figure it out on their own.
      When I read the Centennial Little leagues president, Chris Bentley claiming that they would be, “happy to have Jake play”, why did they not sign him up in the first place? When the request was met with, “Pretty sure that it won’t work; go elsewhere” instead of, “Let’s talk about how we could make this work”…it’s pretty much just a slamming door, and that is never ok.

       

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