Originally created 02/29/04

Parents lobby for son and other children with disabilities



The playoff game was about to begin against an Atlanta area basketball club one recent Saturday, and 11-year-old Stanley Hawes Jr. wasn't sure what to expect in the way of an outcome.

His team - the Dream Team - seemed clearly favored over its Cobb County counterpart: They were one man up with home-court advantage.

But Stanley, who uses one hand to propel his wheelchair across the rubber-top gymnasium floor of John Tutt Middle School, takes little for granted - even a gimme-win on the basketball court.

"You never know when you're gonna win, or lose," the Southside Elementary School pupil explained matter-of-factly from the sidelines.

That day, he rolled away a winner.

"It's like I've been fighting battles ever since Stanley's been born," his mother, Dora Hawes explained from the gymnasium's stands.

To this game, she has worn an airbrushed T-Shirt that reads "Stanley is my man," and she grips two blue pompons that rustle restlessly, even when she's not cheering for her son. She knows everyone who walks through the gymnasium's doors, and they know her.

"Stanley! You better stay focused!"

"Go, Stanley, go!"

Her son has cerebral palsy, a condition caused by damage to the brain that affects muscle control and coordination. Born prematurely at 28 weeks, Stanley weighed only 2 pounds and suffered bleeding in his brain that likely caused his condition.

Eleven years later, he has limited use of his right hand and uses his stronger left hand to maneuver his wheelchair. He also plays soccer, participates in adaptive track, takes swimming lessons and is about to start horseback riding.

"We really try to keep Stanley involved," Mrs. Hawes said. "Although he has limitations, people with special needs ... they have something to offer, too."

And getting people to see that has been the source of many battles, she said. At a recent town hall meeting with Democratic members of the Georgia House of Representatives, she lobbied on behalf of her son and other children with disabilities against proposed budget cuts to state health services.

Last year she completed an 8-month class funded by the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities to help her become a better advocate for for her son and other special needs children. Simply put, she learned to fight better.

And the Haweses have seen their share of fighting. There are fights about money: tax money that is supposed to pay for his much-needed medical services but continues to see cuts from the state and federal government.

There are fights about accessibility: Doors that aren't wide enough. Wheelchair lifts that don't work and entrances without ramps.

And then there are the tears. Mrs. Hawes usually fights those while watching her son go through strenuous and often painful physical therapy sessions.

"To see him struggle ... I wish I could make it a little easier for him," Mrs. Hawes said.

But the physically demanding and mentally taxing regimen of loosening up Stanley's muscles is a struggle he must undertake alone.

And that might be the hardest reality of them all.

"It's nothing he asked for, and it's nothing we asked for," Mrs. Hawes said. "We're gonna be there to let him know we love him. I would not have things any other way."Southside Elementary school, where Stanley attends fifth grade, has been designated by the Richmond County Board of Education to serve children with orthopedic impairments.

Some of their biggest battles have been fought there, the Hawes say.

When Stanley first arrived at the Apple Valley neighborhood school, there were problems almost immediately.

Doors to many restrooms were not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Sidewalks lacked the ramps that would make them accessible, and water fountains were too high for someone trying to drink from a seated position.

Buses used to transport children with disabilities were poorly timed and often delivered students to the school too late or too early.

"It was the Hawes family that really took over to see that we had what we needed to make it an orthopedically-impaired school," principal Nancy Cisick said.

As the mother of a severely retarded son who went through the Richmond County school system, Mrs. Cisick says she holds the Hawes in the highest regard, both as education advocates and as parents.

"I fought every step of the way to get what I wanted, and it was hard as an administrator, but I could get it done as a parent," Mrs. Cisick said. "I never felt like the Hawes family was making me look bad or stepping over me. They were working for Stanley and for all the other children."

Successful change The family's biggest accomplishment, Mrs. Cisick says, has been successfully lobbying for an electric wheelchair lift on the school auditorium's stage. Before, if Stanley or anyone else in a wheelchair wanted to be in a play, sing in the chorus or accept an award, it was done either from the floor, or with the help of teachers who would physically hoist the wheelchair to the stage.

Neither was ideal, and both presented problems for the Hawes.

"Their chance in excelling was limited because they didn't get a chance to do the things other kids could do," Mr. Hawes explained of the stage. "That made them feel like they were different."

Now, children can take the stage in stride.

"I would say anybody would be happy to come here now because of the Hawes family," Mrs. Cisick said. "They've made it very comfortable for those children."

The Haweses will start over next year, however, when Stanley heads to Murphey Middle School for sixth grade.

Mrs. Cisick is sure their work will be felt there, as well.

"You can't argue with people who are only fighting from their heart."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.