Ideas about inclusion, education and life: a chat with Natalee Righetti
Originally posted April 17, 2017 - written by Taylor Singmaster
Last week I sat down with author, advocate and overall amazing human being, Natalee Righetti to share ideas about inclusion, education and life with Cerebral Palsy over coffee. I could go on and on about how wonderful the afternoon chatting was, but instead, I will let her do the talking… Enjoy!
Name: Natalee Righetti
Work: Classroom aide for a preschool class at Weingarten Children's Center…formerly known as Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf.
Tell us a little about yourself… Along with the fact that I have Cerebral Palsy, some things that have shaped me into who I am today are my dad’s career in baseball and my siblings. I feel my disability is ultimately what keeps me grounded. I’m forced to face a challenge everyday, and I can either choose to complain and get frustrated with every little thing that is difficult or takes too much time to do, or I can be positive and accept my body for what it is and focus on growing my abilities and improving. I have a lot of support around me. My boyfriend has always made it clear that he see’s me as being capable of anything I put my mind to, which is how I like to see myself.
My dad being a professional athlete introduced me to sports at a very young age. I have always loved being active, and naturally wanted to be able to play sports like my dad, which is what drove me to work hard in physical and occupational therapy even though I hated it. Years of playing sports, volleyball in particular, proved to be very taxing on my body, so I decided to stop playing officially when I was 19 years old. I have never liked to give up when it came to the ability of my body, so I channeled my passion for playing sports into learning good nutrition and beneficial fitness routines.
Lastly, my brother and sister are a huge part of who I am. Even though there is so much I could say about having a disability that is positive, I feel the biggest blessing out of being born premature as a result of being part of triplets and almost not surviving are my brother and sister. I have always had at least two people supporting me and cheering me on through the many challenges I’ve faced. Even though our lives are going in different directions now, I know I’ll always have their support and the bond we share. At times when I’m not feeling as positive, I can look at them, and I’m reminded of everything we went through and have overcome, and that gives me strength.
UP Academy is looking to change the face of education, can you tell us a little about your experience in school as a child with CP? Growing up, deep down I always felt kind of like an outcast because of the struggles I faced with learning due to the trauma my brain suffered at birth. In elementary school I was pulled out of class to work with another teacher on my reading comprehension and math skills, and in junior high and high school I took my tests in the disability resource classroom. Although my peers were still kind and friendly to me for the most part, I always felt like I was labeled as “less than” because I needed extra help. My classmates always seemed confused and curious as to why I had to leave the classroom and didn’t always show it in a respectful way. That’s why I think UP Academy’s goal of inclusion is so great. As long as a classroom has the educators/para educators and the resources they need, why should kids have to be separated from their classmates and the classroom environment to do so? I think it’s important for peers to interact and be aware of how the pace at which somebody learns is unique to the individual.
Now you work in the education system… can you tell us a little about your decision to go this route? I didn’t choose a job in education because I want to teach necessarily, but because I can relate so well to children with disabilities and how they may feel excluded from what typical school systems consider to be normal. One of the things that brings me the most joy is embracing others and making them feel included and accepted. If they’re frustrated with a challenge because of their disability, that’s okay, there is always a way to work through that challenge, and my hope is that the kids I work with sense that patience. I can remember being in my “normal” classroom and taking a long time to solve a math problem, and the teacher would move on to another student to get the answer, or my peers would rush me which made feel the need to be sorry for moving at my own pace. That is why I would never want a student I am working with to feel the rate at which they learn is unacceptable. The school that I’m currently working for is specifically for deaf children, so the curriculum is structured for everyone to learn at their own pace and the teachers take their time with each student.
Other than your day job you are also an advocate, speaker and author. Can you explain why you decided to get so involved and what sort of impact you are working to make? My senior year of high school after I created a Disability Awareness Day, I started to realize how much passion I had for inspiring and bringing out the best in others with challenges. From there I wanted to do whatever else I could do to get involved, such as working for organizations that help others with disabilities and writing a book about my own experience with CP and the challenges I’ve faced. When you and I met for coffee we talked about how some people with CP and other disabilities don’t even have the ability to speak for themselves and how someone like me can speak on behalf of them; well that’s how I feel. Since I have this passion for being there for other people, why not have the backs of those who have a story to tell or a message they want to get across?
When we met you told me a bit about your desire to support younger people in their relationship to different types of therapies, can you talk more about that? I went to physical and occupational therapy for the first 17 years of my life, and I never liked it. I hated feeling forced to wear braces on my leg and hand, and feared the possibility of different procedures. However, I still worked hard during each therapy session because I wanted to be strong and capable. One thing I learned from feeling conflicted about therapy yet passionate about wanting to be capable, is that the mentality you have during circumstances that is key. I knew deep down that therapy was going to help me be the best I could be, which is why I pushed through it with a can-do attitude most of the time. I sympathize with other kids who are going through therapy because not every therapy session is easy to get through with a smile on your face. My advice would be to work hard and stay patient, and good things will happen. That’s something I have found to be true with therapy as well as in life in general.
What was your personal experience with inclusion? I sort of go into my experience in the above question about education, but the classroom wasn’t the only place I felt a bit excluded. I was always the only one with a disability on sports teams, which automatically made me feel different from the other girls. I always had to deal with overcoming my own self-consciousness about being good enough to play on the team. I conquered that each practice and game by going out there and focusing on my role, giving my all, and cheering my teammates on.Tell us about your book and why you decided writing would be a part of your journey? My book is mainly a memoir about my experience with Cerebral Palsy throughout my childhood and teenage years, but throughout the book I take the readers through my parents journey of conceiving, the significance my dad’s career has had on my growing up experience and my hopes for the future. It’s really neat to think back on what my life was like as I was writing the book at 19-years-old, and the hopes that I had that have actually come to fruition. I chose to write a memoir because I was at a point where I felt I needed to share what I had learned so far from what I had gone through. I learned early on that because of my disability, nothing would ever be easy in life. I think it pushed me to mature quickly and I really had no option but to be positive and move forward through every challenge. I wanted to share the message with others in a similar position that even through disappointing or frustrating circumstances, happiness, renewed strength, and wisdom can be attained if you choose to believe in yourself and in life. That being said, I owe any positive impact that my book has had on people to one of my best friends who encouraged me to write a book. I had always thought I would write a book, but not until I was older, and she thought sharing my childhood with others would be just as beneficial as waiting till I had lived more life.
Do you have plans to write more? As of right now I don’t have plans to write more. I think I’d like to let life choose if and when I’ll write another book. I’ve always thought of writing about what it’s like being a mom with a disability is like in order to inspire other women like me, but we’ll see!
Where can we follow your journey? Get in touch? Learn more? Find your book? I am on Facebook and Instagram, although I don’t post things often. I can be reached through Linkedin and my business email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find my book on Amazon, and buy it in person if I’m doing a book signing!
Stay tuned for possible upcoming collaborated events by UP Academy and Natalee Righetti. Want to support both UP and Natalee? Purchase her book, Beautifully Different, through Amazon Smiles; Supporting: UP Academy: https://smile.amazon.com/Beautifully-Different-living-despite-disability/dp/1470136511/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491198737&sr=8-1&keywords=beautifully+different