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Ableism in Physical Education

McKenzie Stribich smiling headshot

McKenzie Stribich

As a disabled and neurodivergent student who grew up going to small Christian schools ill-equipped to serve students with disabilities, there are probably many ways in which I wasn’t given the accommodations I needed to excel—accommodations that may well have been met in other local schools. One that comes especially to mind is the realm of physical education (PE).

The first painful memory occurred in third grade. Standing and turning the jump rope for one of my peers, I was suddenly approached by the PE teacher, who told me in certain terms that I couldn’t participate in that activity anymore—her reason being it wasn’t safe. I remember being sidelined on the bench while doing my best to hide my tears from the teacher sitting next to me.

In the following years, we had a new PE teacher, who tried her best to involve me by having me “judge” games in which my peers participated. Surely this was a noble effort on her part, but even the best of intentions sometimes have stinging results. Looking back, I remember feeling more alienated than included. I would stand off to the side and keep score or record who finished first, all the while just wanting to participate.

Things were no better in high school. I participated as fully as I could but because it wasn’t possible for me to do all class activities, my teacher gave me a B on my report card and refused to give me my fully deserved A. She offered no adapted activities even when confronted by myself and my parents.

I don’t know why an Individualized Education Program (IEP) wasn’t made available in the schools I attended; perhaps it was lack of resources, ignorance on the part of the administration, lack of government oversight, or lack of care. But I firmly believe IEPs should be available to all students who need them in any school.

I tell these stories partly out of pain, and partly in hopes that sharing them will help other students similarly struggling. Having just a single person who recognized my struggles and advocated for me in education settings would have changed my life for the better.

Meet the Author

McKenzie Stribich

McKenzie Stribich [she (preferred)/they (used sometimes)] is a Faith Inclusion and Belonging Apprentice in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Fall 2022. She holds a BFA in photography from California State University, Long Beach. She’s rediscovering her dormant love of reading (often a struggle because of her ADHD), and is a lover of music and swimming.

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