LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Teena Fitzroy addressed attendees at the National Association for Pupil Transportation Summit here last Monday, telling her life story with the aim of helping the audience understand the perspective of students with special needs.
Her presentation, titled "Junk in My Trunk," focused on the assumptions people make about those with disabilities, the struggles she has faced and overcome, and her career path. Although she spoke at times about troubling issues, Fitzroy included a great deal of humor in her talk, prompting laughter and applause from attendees throughout.
A family information specialist for Monroe #1 BOCES in Fairport, N.Y., Fitzroy grew up with cerebral palsy and was the first child with a disability to attend her local elementary school. Her cerebral palsy is a result of brain damage she suffered at birth due to oxygen deprivation.
One of the first props she pulled out of her trunk during the presentation was a beer bottle, which she said represents the assumption some people make upon meeting her that she is either very drunk or mentally retarded because her speech and physical coordination are impacted by the cerebral palsy. "What I want you to remember when working with kids with disabilities is they didn't have a choice," she noted. "The cerebral palsy is really a tiny part of who I am."
Fitzroy described her mother as her hero, as she fought for Teena to leave an institution for children with disabilities at age six and enter the public school system. "She saw my abilities, not my disabilities," Fitzroy said.
"Tell kids with disabilities to learn to live successfully with [them]," she said. She urged attendees to be friends and heroes to students with special needs, removing obstacles to their path to education.
Fitzroy went on to describe her unsuccessful marriage and a series of odd jobs as a normal part of becoming an adult. She eventually found a position with a nonprofit organization benefitting those with cerebral palsy, which led to her current job. She also showed photos of her family, noting that her children have an enlightened awareness of people with disabilities and also champion their mother's abilities. "Society's attitude is the No. 1 problem for people with disabilities," Fitzroy remarked.
One attendee during the question and answer period at the end of the talk made the comment that if audience members did not come away from Fitzroy's presentation having learned something, they shouldn't be in the business of transporting students with special needs.