I was invited through the New York Foundation of the Arts to present a workshop/reading for Poem in a Pocket Day at Forest Hills High School. What follows is an email (written by me) reaccounting the response I got:
Dear Mr. V.,
I recently volunteered to participate in Poem in the Pocket Day in the New York City Schools through New York Foundation of the Arts where I was a 2005 Poetry Fellow. I was assigned to work with Ms. Lipton, the special education teacher at Forest Hills High School. When I called Ms. L. to make arrangements to visit the school this Friday, she was clearly taken aback by my voice. I have cerebral palsy and have a slight speech impediment. Despite this challenge, I am well-known poet and am a permanently certified NYC DOE English teacher.
I told Ms. L. that I had a disability. She was unable to look past her assumptions and grilled me on my qualifications as a poet. She then insisted that I explain whether I had worked with Special Education students. She said that she didn't think that her students would give their attention to poetry. I then asked her why she signed up for the Poem in a Pocket Project. She made it clear that I was not what she expected. Then, she asked me the date of the program. She didn't even know that it was being held Friday. Finally, she told me that she would be absent Friday, and I would have to work with a substitute.
The way this unfolded is very disheartening to me. I am very busy working on the proofs for my manuscript which will be published in October. I was more than happy to help, but am frustrated that I was put in a position where I had to convince a teacher to let me volunteer.
Most of all, Ms. L. students really miss out. Ms. L. kept them from having an opportunity to see that people with disabilities are successful.