On Friday, Nov. 17, the Eastern Michigan University College of Education and the Ann Arbor Individual Disability Education Advocacy Series (A2Ideas) co-sponsored a screening of the film Intelligent Lives at the EMU Student Center.
Following the screening of the film, there was a panel discussion led by Heather Eckner, Dr. Carrie Filarski, and Janice Fialka. Fialka is the mother of the film’s subject, Micah Fialka-Feldman. Approximately 100 people attended the event.
The film Intelligent Lives follows three young adults with intellectual disabilities as they navigate high school, college and the workforce. In spite of the many highly segregated social systems in America for people with disabilities, the film’s subjects Micah, Naieer and Naomie thrive because of the inclusive environments that they are a part of.
Two copies of Fialka’s book What Matters, Reflections on Disability, Community and Love were raffled off to two attendees of the event. The book follows Micah and his community's journey to establish full inclusion.
During the discussion, Fialka offered her take on how to make classrooms more inclusive.
“I’ll throw out a radical thought to shift. I think that until we drop general-ed and special-ed and make it all one education, we are not going to be able to really come to a full inclusion. It will continue to be their students and my students. How we get to our students is if the kids at the pre-surface level in college are learning how to teach all kids,” said Fialka.
This idea resonated with EMU student Kylie Sutherlin, a senior majoring in elementary special education with a cognitive impairment endorsement.
“I think any child can be put into general-ed. It’s just the services and supports that they need to be successful. I think that was shown and discussed throughout the movie, so I think that was my biggest takeaway."
Heather Eckner, the Founder and Executive Director of A2Ideas, described her experience as a teacher and a parent to children with disabilities. “I knew I wasn’t trained well enough as a general education teacher for students with disabilities. Then, I became a parent of a kid with a disability and I was like ‘Hold up. I’m going to make sure I have all that training.’"
A2Ideas offers education advocacy services and programs to families within Washtenaw County and surrounding areas. The non-profit organization launched in 2017.
“We’re now three years into it. We’re still very much a startup. Grassroots like in the true sense of the word,” said Eckner.
Beginning with this school year, A2Ideas now offers a new program led by Eckner, A2Ideas Advocacy & Support Training (AsSisT) program.
Adriana Rodriguez, board chair of A2Ideas, shared her thoughts.
“What I’ve learned is that parents need help,” said Rodriguez. "This is a whole new navigational system where parents that have kids now [know that inclusive environments] didn’t exist when they were in school, so they’re learning and they need help. When things go wrong, it’s crisis mode and they need someone like Heather. We’re trying to train parents.”
By the time the AsSisT program is over, each family will have undergone at least 40 hours of advocacy through a series of training sessions, consultations, coaching, ongoing communication and support to help their child further succeed in the community’s education system.
To donate to A2Ideas, visit http://www.a2ideas.org/donate/.