The Long Read: “How Inclusion at ASH Taught Me To Dream - An Alum’s Story of Meaningful Learning”
“Every single teacher had a positive effect on my learning; they were the ones who taught me how to dream”, says alum Vaibhav, when asked about the meaningful learning experience he had here at ASH. We recently caught up with this 2004 graduate after some published articles brought to light his inspirational achievements around inclusion in his professional law career, as well as his active volunteer work to create a culture of growth for individuals with disabilities. To understand his work now, we asked him to take us back to his time at ASH and how this helped shape his future and aspirations for the years to come.
Born in India, Vaibhav lived there the majority of his early years and youth, attending a school for children with special needs. Vaibhav was born with cerebral palsy, a condition which affects weight bearing and limits movement in his arms and legs. In addition it affects his spacial awareness; meaning that he depends on a wheelchair for movement and on others to help. Growing up he may have had some physical restrictions, but cognitively he was yearning for more. As he embarked upon mainstream education in India, he and his family had to agree to have 1:1 support for him at all times while at school to cater to his physical needs and so his mother stayed at mainstream school with him. It was a small price, Vaibhav felt, for him to receive the intellectual challenge that he so deeply craved.
All that changed when his father’s job moved them to the Netherlands in 1999. Ready to start grade 7, Vaibhav’s mother was also ready to join him at school as she had done in years past. Not the case, however, after his admission to ASH. Initially, a 1:1 support teacher was hired to be with Vaibhav during his first days and after 6 months his teacher assessed that he had no need for an aid at all. This was the first door opening a mindset of inclusion; possibilities beyond his imagination, and a vision of himself where he was not defined by his (limiting) physical condition.
This vision of inclusion and future possibilities presented itself around each corner, in each classroom, and with each teacher he encountered while completing his studies at ASH. Vaibhav speaks fondly, passionately and gratefully about each teacher and staff member that helped him realize a dream for himself that he never dared to have on his own. From his first teachers in middle school that helped him see his potential (Ms. Hoogland, Ms. Christopher, Mr. Cramer, to name just a few) to the slew of high school teachers that enabled him to pursue his career in law: Mr. Loy, who encouraged him to take the IB program; Mr. O’Murchu encouraging him to take part in THIMUN; Mr. Terry who helped him be “friends'' with science on the IB Texel Trip; Ms. Enschede, who gave him confidence to speak at the school’s presidential visit of (then) President and First Lady Clinton. Mr. Cunningham helped him find his place on stage in IB theater, Mr. Labrie supporting his studies and test taking after school and Mr. Pontes teaching his lessons of life beyond the classroom; his list literally goes on and on.
Across every subject, there was a common perspective of “thinking outside the box”, says Vaibhav, teachers “giving their time, thinking creatively, to ensure that I was able to do things properly in a way that I could.” He attributes his success to each and every teacher he had while studying at ASH. Most certainly, he says his participation in THIMUN was the starting point for his career in law; Vaibhav was the first participant to be selected for the international court of justice from the school; he was the advocate and judge during his first year, and was elected president/presiding judge the following year. At ASH, he says, “I was seen for my ability, not my disability, where I could realize my passions and not be defined by my chair.”
Since his graduation from ASH, life has been filled with ups and downs, where he was presented with a view of himself that he left behind years ago when he left India. His attempts to break into the legal profession in the UK were initally fruitless; Vaibhav needed to begin a two year training contract but no firm could see past his physical condition. After the years of encouragement and growth at ASH, he was hit with a misconception of what he was capable of in the professional world; it took him eight years to find a company to hire him. His determination never waivered though, as he knew his own worth and that he had so much intellect and passion to contribute to the field of law. His current employer, Reed Smith
, saw his ambitions and potential, where he has now been able to flourish as both a lawyer and activist
for inclusion in the workplace. This article
from Chambers and Partners goes into deeper detail on just how much the Reed Smith company has facilitated his journey in the last four years; a further article from Global Business Coalition for Education and Theirworld
additionally illustrates his reach and impact on the perceptions of individuals with disabilities as well as creating an inclusive environment.
Vaibhav was keen to take his conversations about inclusion of individuals with disabilities to a platform and audience wider than his company - to which the idea of the Disability Inclusion Summit
was born. His idea to facilitate conversations that leads to cultivating an environment of growth and change, led him and Reed Smith to create the Disability Inclusion Summit that took place this year on the International Day of Persons with a Disability, December 3. The Summit had over 130 individuals in virtual attendance across the world - keynote speakers from the Bank of England, Microsoft, Airbnb, a Paralympian, Law Society and Lawcare, among others who engaged in discussions that matter to facilitate change. Vaibhav himself delivered the opening remarks along the Bank of England representative. “(The Summit) is just the beginning”, he says, with his ambition for the future is “to be known as much for my legal work as my disability activism.”
His words for our current ASH students, and to those looking to redefine their current perspectives: “look beyond the books, expand your horizons, become a global citizen, find something that you are passionate about and have the ability and confidence to facilitate the change that you want to see.” While he doesn't know how much time he has or where his journey will take him, he lives each day by the values of “ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better” - a quote by Samuel Beckett. He also strongly believes that we should never underestimate the power that one has to change the world. Something that he learned and lived, while studying at ASH - the starting point for his journey of meaningful learning. “Without those (ASH) teachers and staff, I wouldn’t be where I am today”.