I’ve seen some chatter lately on the Internet about American Football star Tim Tebow’s charitable project “Night To Shine,” which funds prom events for high school age students with disabilities. They are controversial among what is most likely a small minority of people, most of whom are disabled people themselves.
The interesting thing is that there is an unusually wide gap between how simply and umcomplicatedly “good” the “Night To Shine” program looks to the casual observer, and how instinctively troubling it is for those of us who actually went through high school with disabilities ourselves. What’s the crux of the problem?
In a nutshell, arranging separate proms just for disabled kids validates and enables the barriers that prevent disabled kids from going to their schools’ regular proms. It’s essentially giving up on the idea of social inclusion. I get that to an actual disabled kid, a fun night out might be preferable to sitting at home alone to make a political point. But wouldn’t it be even better to get help and support to be able to go to the prom everyone else is going to?
Why do we need separate proms? And why isn’t the Tim Tebow Foundation asking that question?
I have a suggestion. Next year Mr. Tebow should instead offer to help pay for any prom that takes strong steps to include students with disabilities. You care about disabled kids. You’ve got money and the organizational tools to do ambitious things. Put your name and resources into integration, not segregation.