Cerebral Palsy at Prom

Alan Rasof CP PromsIt’s prom season for high schools across the United States. Pictures of teens in elegant ball gowns and expensive tuxedos posing with flowers and limousines are flooding news websites and social media streams. Sprinkled among the smiles and sequins, though, is the occasional story about the selfless teens who benevolently decided to take a student with a disability as their prom date.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about prom, but my grandson Elijah is a toddler now and prom is still in his future. As glad as I am to see so many able-bodied teens taking teens with disabilities to prom, I don’t want this to be newsworthy. Teens with disabilities aren’t novelties, and befriending one shouldn’t be novel and newsworthy.

People with disabilities don’t exist for the rest of us to feel inspired. In a poignant TED talk, Stella Young, a journalist who uses a power chair for mobility, told the audience that she doesn’t need anyone’s help or sympathy, and she certainly doesn’t want to be held up as a model citizen for able-bodied people to think to themselves, “wow, if she can do what she does, so can I.”

Students with Cerebral Palsy especially don’t want to be looked on pitifully or as pets. Many are active members of their communities, participating in events and making friends as their conditions allow. Several people with CP have taken to blogging and vlogging to normalize and humanize their disabilities but also illuminate how difficult it is to navigate a world designed for able-bodied individuals.
As Elijah grows up, I don’t want one of his classmates to take him to prom out of pity or as a grand gesture of selflessness and altruism. Elijah has a wonderful personality. He loves to play and laugh and interact with people. When he grows up, I want someone to take him to prom because they’re friends, not because it’s a kind gesture. I’m sure he’ll be giddy to pick out flowers and bowties, and I can already picture his face lighting up when the DJ plays his favorite song. I don’t ever want to see him as a prop or the object of charity, especially at his prom.

High School Students Use Their Engineering Club To Help A Fellow Classmate With Cerebral Palsy

A group of high school students in Green Township, Ohio, created a project for themselves that would help a fellow classmate, Jerry Potavin. Jerry is a student living with cerebral palsy.

Alan Rasof

Members of the Oak Hills engineering club designed and built a table to help classmate Jerry Potavin.

What started out as just another project for the engineering team at Oak Hills High School turned out to be much more then that for classmate, Jerry Potavin. Jerry is sitting easier now thanks to the selflessness of his peers at Oak Hills.

“I have always loved helping people, it’s just what I like to do,” says Oak Hills, senior, Dylan Noble. Dylan along with 5 other engineering students were contacted by their high schools engineering teacher to build something that would make Jerry a little more comfortable. “Once we finally delivered it to him, it was exactly what they wanted” says Dylan.

Alan RasofJerry has to spend a lot of time in his wheelchair every day and because of this he needs to spend a certain amount of time a day stretched out on a flat mat. Dylan and the engineering club built a table that would make it easier for Jerry to move around.

Laura Velasquez, one of Jerry’s teachers at Oak Hills said that when they brought the table down to show Jerry, their faces were lit up with joy and excitement. Their faces were just glowing, you could feel the overwhelming positive energy that they had, said Velasquez.

Velasquez said that the table has already made a difference for Jerry. “It makes him feel a lot more included, so that’s really wonderful,” she said.

Dylan Noble, along with the rest of his engineering team, have set such a great example for their peers. They have found a way to combine the skill sets that they have learned in engineering class with giving back to their community to most importantly, help a friend.

To read more about Jerry and his classmates, or to watch a video on this story, click here.