Saturday, 17 May 2008

Only in America?

Probably not

Here’s a Conductive Education story to defy categorisation, picked up from yesterday’s issue of the Gainesville Sun in which it was written up in some detail by campus correspondent Claudia Adrian.

Key words

A Conductive Education story? And the rest! Here are twenty key words that might be applied if indexing the content of this extensive article

Levin College of Law
University of Florida
cerebral palsy
national interest waiver
Department of Homeland Security
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Conductive Education
Pető Institute
Jordan Klausner Foundation
Law School Admissions Council
disability accommodations
Justice Department
Disability Rights Advocates

Have you the slightest idea yet of what this engrossing story is actually about?

Just as this story defies classification, so it defies summarising too. It concerns 28-year-old Rafal Strzalkowski who grew up in Poland with cerebral palsy. As a boy he attended the Pető Institute in Budapest for four years, till the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990. He was then around ten years old. Then… No, this does not do his story justice. Read for yourself what has happened since then, and especially what is happening with him now in the United States:


This is an American story but it could happen anywhere. Person-centred solutions to problems like Rafal’s tend to need political intervention with discretion powerful enough to overrule the diktats of a bureaucracy that sees itself as only doing its mandated job.

Rafal’s publicity, his local political support, and all the lawyers involved, do not seem to be solving his problem

Writing from the United Kingdom, I do admire the way in which American newspapers, especially local newspapers, grant such serious attention to reporting local stories. Rafal might be hard-pressed in the United Kingdom to attract much more than the headline ‘Tragic Raf loses fight to stay’, over a brief and equally trivialising report. Of course his specific situation could never arise here because, as a Pole, he would have automatic right of entry – but an identical situation could easily arise if he were, say, Somalian – or American.

What we do have in the United Kingdom, however, is serious national television capable of lifting a situation like Rafal’s to national attention as a cause célèbre. Conductive Education knows the power of television to create a political agenda – and it knows too how hopeless it can be to struggle for a solution to an officially based problem in the absence of a favourable political Zeitgeist.

The best of luck in your struggle, Rafal. Conductive Education for children and adults with cerebral palsy outside Hungary desperately needs wider public advocacy from adults who benefited in their younger years. And if the US Government persists in its position then at least perhaps America’s loss will be Poland’s gain. Or maybe even the United Kingdom’s...

Is there a moral to this story? More than one, for sure.


Claudia Adrian (2006) Disabled student protests treatment at LSAT, Gainesville Sun, 2 November

Claudia Adrian (2008) International student wants to stay in U.S. to help others with disabilities, Gainesville Sun, 14 May


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