Guest column: Time for ‘Senior Citizen Day’ to end

Ms. Janeal Lee, Guest contributor

I have spent a majority of my life being a spokesperson for people with physical disabilities. This is a direct result of my experiences living with Muscular Dystrophy and having a sister with the same genetic disorder. Recently, I placed myself in the role of advocate on behalf of those individuals negatively impacted by the unsanctioned dress-up day commonly known as “Senior Citizen Day.”

During my initial year at North, I remember feeling confused the first time I saw a student dressed up as an elderly person using a cane. I was only at North part-time then, and didn’t feel the full impact of the day. Once I began teaching full time in our building, my confusion changed into a deeper concern. I was shocked by some of the behavior I saw and the light-hearted, joking manner in which it took place. Over the last two years, my concern has grown into dismay and even frustration over this bizarre tradition.

I tried to tell myself, “It’s just one day. Suck it up!” or “It’s okay since there is no malicious intent.” But I know what is happening is simply not okay. I could not stand by while people made a mockery of those with physical disabilities. After all, it is not “fun” to need a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair. For some, these devices are a necessary part of life — not a joke. This is why I have spoken to multiple student groups and classes about my concerns. I want to make others aware of how their actions are impacting other people.

Over the past two years, I have begun to dread coming to school on this day. Last year, as I pulled into the parking lot, I realized I wanted to put my vehicle in reverse and go home. That is how much this day has bothered me. And if I feel that way — as an adult with decades of time to find acceptance of my physical disability — I wondered how students with physical needs or those who have loved ones with physical needs are being impacted.

So while I understand it’s tradition for seniors to have “senior citizen day,” I question the role of this dress-up day. Should a person’s desire to “have fun” (because it’s fun to pretend to need a mobility device?) override another person’s right to feel valued and respected in our school? Beyond that, once you have been made aware that this tradition is hurtful to a unique population of students, is it your “right” to continue the tradition?

The practice of “senior citizen day” has evolved until it has become harmful and insensitive to a unique group of students in our school community — a group in which I proudly include myself. Although you are hearing from ONE disabled person, I am not the ONLY disabled person in our school. I have chosen to speak out on this issue, but I am asking for your help in making the change happen. Homecoming is a time to celebrate school spirit and be inclusive of all the members of our school community.
Ms. Janeal Lee is a math teacher at Appleton North.