The Privilege of Participation

Stop me if you’ve heard this before or if you yourself have thought or said this. “Everybody gets a trophy nowadays! This is why kids today are so ‘sensitive’.”

Today, I happened across a Facebook post by Josh and Leigh, who are my pastors. It was of their daughter receiving a participation certificate for participating in a sack race. You might be tempted to think, “Ugh. Here we go. Participation awards for everyone!” But before you do, I want to tell you a story about their daughter.

Their daughter’s name is Piper. She is the most effervescent toddler I’ve ever met. I don’t like children, but I do love her. She’s such a lovely child. She also happens to have 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome.

22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome or 22Q (also known as the DiGeorge Syndrome) is a disorder caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome 22. The deletion occurs near the middle of the chromosome at a location designated q11.2.

22Q has many possible signs and symptoms that can affect almost any part of the body. And because this is the case, it is often undiagnosed. Only a genetic test can confirm 22Q.

Because Piper has 22Q, she needs to be fed through a tube and she is also deaf. If you want to read more about Josh and Leigh’s journey with Piper, I encourage you to follow Leigh’s blog, Me and P. Leigh has also written a book, Hope Trafficker.

On her book, Leigh talks about how the mere act of going out to cafés would often need a lot of logistical planning for Piper. Piper also recently started kindergarten. She goes to “mainstream” school where she enjoys her classes and makes friends. And though Piper has 22Q there is a lightness about her, an ease that touches the ones around her.

Piper often does not have the opportunity to do things that may seem “normal” to us. And so, it was such an amazing win for her to be able to join the sack race with her parents. And for this simple act of participation, she received a certificate. All the kids did.

See for people with marginalised identities or backgrounds, participation is a privilege that has often been denied to them.

Privilege. Noun. An advantage that only one person or group of people has, usually because of their position.
Cambridge Dictionary

Participation is a privilege. Not everyone has historically or traditionally been allowed to participate. Women were denied participation from the vote until 1893. Women of colour in America were denied participation from the vote until 1965. People of colour were denied participation in immigration to Australia until 1973. Any time a group of people is systematically disadvantaged, the group that is inversely affected becomes a privileged group.

Since people with disabilities have traditionally and historically been excluded from community life and from participation, people without disabilities have experienced the privilege of participation while people with disabilities have been denied it. That is why a child with a disability, like Piper, receiving a participation certificate is such an incredible thing.

Participation is a privilege. And the next time you are tempted to complain about kids receiving participation trophies, remember that some of those kids might not have always been able to participate. Understand that you only think it’s annoying because you have always been able to participate. So it’s time to check your privilege.

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