Posted on February 4th, 2015 by Elsa Remak
Any high-school movie will tell you: prom is more than a dance and an excuse to get dolled up. It’s a night that celebrates adolescence and embraces the next journey in young adult life. Prom is an evening where all students, no matter where they sit at lunch or what clique they belong to, come together one last time.
Hollywood might portray prom as a picturesque evening, but the reality is that prom can be far from the suburban fairytale we envision, and a new trend on the rise begs the question of whether the typical high school prom truly is welcoming to all students.
Tim Tebow, a former NFL quarterback and current sports network analyst, recently announced his plans to host 45 prom events specifically for teens with disabilities and special needs on February 13. The series of simultaneous proms, called Night to Shine, is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and the dances are expected to draw a crowd of nearly 7,000 teens across 26 states and three countries. Each prom will include the fixings of a magical evening. Attendees will be able to get moving on the dance floor, strut across a red carpet entrance and arrive by limousine.
By the sounds of it, this prom already blows mine out of the water! A genuinely good guy is using his influence to give back to the disability community–what could possibly be controversial about it? I’m not here to denounce Tebow, his foundation or Night to Shine. I have respect for all three. Tim’s heart is in the right place and these teens are more than deserving of a special evening. My concern is that some people feel a need to segregate an event that should celebrate inclusivity.
We’re approaching the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that revolutionized the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. Yet half a century later we’re struggling to make an event that celebrates togetherness accessible for all students.
The media is quick to spotlight an increasing number of events like Night to Shine, yet it misses the mark when it comes to exploring why these dances exist in the first place. Even more upsetting is that these proms are privately funded events held at unaffiliated locations like churches and event halls, with no support from the schools they serve. I have to ask: Are high schools doing enough to make sure their proms are welcoming to students of all abilities?
Here are a few starting tips for schools preparing for the big dance this spring:
- Choose an ADA compliant location: Schools often elect to hold their proms at off-site locations like hotels, ballrooms or country clubs. Even though it’s 2015, some of these locations are still living in the past—with amenities that fail to meet the standard for ADA compliance. In 2013, an Oregon teen, learned he could not attend his own prom because the event space had no elevator to their second story ballroom. The key to avoiding disaster is research. Make sure to ask the events coordinator at a given location about their accessibility.
- Be Sensitive to Sensitivities: To make prom a joyous night for all teens, schools must go beyond the basic ADA standards. Teens have different sensitivities based on their unique abilities. Choose a dance floor that’s large enough to support multiple wheelchairs, opt for lighting that is comfortable and make sure there are quiet areas in place for attendees needing a break from blaring music.
- Listen to your students: Want to learn how to appeal to the needs of your students? The answer is simple….ASK! Students will be happy to share how their evening can be enhanced, be it from hiring an interpreter to being able to avoid certain foods that irritate allergies.
- Learn from peer institutions: An increasing amount of inclusive educational programs are popping up throughout the country. These schools pride themselves on offering quality educational experiences to students of all abilities.
- Here at Easter Seals we’ve been lucky enough to talk with people at the Chime Institute, a California charter-school that’s a national leader in the development of inclusive education. At Chime, students of all abilities learn side by side, enhancing each child’s strength, while also fostering educational progress.
I’m encouraging a call-to-action for schools to examine whether their “inclusive” evenings really are welcoming to all students. Know of any schools exhibiting true accessibility when it comes to dances? Any thoughts on influencers like Tebow funding separate dances? Please share your opinions in the comments section.
- Prom is a milestone moment for many. Share your prom photos on Twitter or Instagram with #LifesMoments to be featured on easterseals.com. We’re sharing our achievements and milestones all season long. Join us!
- Are you a teen-age girl or young woman looking for an inspiring support network? Check out Easter Seals Thrive for young women with disabilities!