WASHINGTON, D.C. – National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia is being harshly criticized for a hurtful description of disabled children.
During an awards ceremony for the leftist group Campaign for America’s Future, Garcia said, “We diversify our curriculum instruction to meet the personal individual needs of all of our students the blind, the hearing impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.”
When a video of Garcia’s remarks began circulating, advocacy groups denounced them.
The American Association of People with Disabilities issued a statement saying:
AAPD condemns this statement and the disrespect it not only shows to students with disabilities, but all Americans with disabilities. As the nation’s largest labor union, representing over three million teachers, the NEA should know better than to insult students and must do more to be inclusive of all students. On the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is horribly unfortunate and sadly ironic that we must chastise the President of the NEA for her comments.
“Like their non-disabled peers, students with disabilities have the right to a public education, as was intended 40 years ago today when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act — now Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — was signed into law,” Helena Berger, President and CEO of AAPD said in the statement.
“AAPD joins our partners in the disability rights community in calling on the NEA to live up to their mission and values, helping to ensure children with disabilities have the opportunity to develop their talents, achieve their goals, and contribute to their communities.”
Jess Wilson, writing at Diary of a Mom, slammed Garcia’s apparent attempt at humor.
I can only assume that you thought that would be funny. I’m sure that it would have gotten a hearty laugh out of the Donald. But Ms. Eskelsen Garcia, mocking my child’s disability and her medical condition is not funny. Not even a little.
Let me say that again. Mocking my child’s disability and her medical condition is not funny. It’s reprehensible. And it’s made far more reprehensible by the source.
You represent three million teachers, Ms. Eskelsen Garcia. Three million people who show up at work each day and greet our children. Three million people who can either look at their disabled students just as they do their non-disabled peers – as capable, worthy, beautiful, complicated, fully dimensional human beings who can flourish with their care and expertise — or — as an annoyance, a cost, a hindrance. Or worse, as fodder for a punch line.
Only after the criticisms mounted did Garcia offer an apology.
Writing on the NEA website, Garcia says:
In my speech, I attempted to give the full litany of our responsibilities in a playful way. I had in mind those commercials we’ve all seen for prescription drugs in which a lengthy list of possible side effects is stated at warp speed, while smiling people go on a hike or enjoy a candlelight dinner.
Epic fail. In my attempt to be clever and funny, I stepped on a word in one phrase, and I created another phrase that I believed was funny, but was insulting. I apologize.
She claims she meant to say “chronically tardy.” As for saying “medically annoying,” she says she apologizes “for my choice of words.”
A petition was launched calling for Garcia to resign over the remarks.
“Although she has apologized through another forum, giving a very implausible explanation for her choice of words, this type of faux pas is not acceptable for an educator who happens to be the president of an association to which three million members belong, many of them educators as well,” the petition reads.
So far, it has over 1,100 signatures.