Dr. Witherspoon shared the detail of his early life in both Illinois and Florida. “Well that’s actually kind of a fun story. I was born here in Illinois, down in Decatur. I was there until the end of third grade. Then I moved to Florida. So I grew up in Florida. I finished elementary school, went to middle school, and I was there until my sophomore year in high school.”
Dr. Witherspoon’s life is greatly impacted by special education. “First of all I’ll start with that my wife has been a special education teacher for 22 years. Besides that, I’ve always had a strong relationship with students with disabilities everywhere I taught and as an administrator. It’s just always been important to me, because one of the things I cherish is diversity. Never forget the value in the importance of diversity of people with different disabilities and interact with people who don’t have evident disabilities.
“I like to mention a former student who’s important to me. Steven Hyatt-Leonard is in a motorized chair and why I use him as an example is because he’s an adult. He’s in his 20s, and he goes to Southern Illinois University. I communicate everyday via email. He’s student senator to people with disabilities. He advocates for a lot of things and he bounces things off of me, too.”
Dr. Witherspoon talked of about how he was impacted by the word “disabilities.” “What has influenced me is that I really believe that people need to be encouraged and supported being as independent as they could possibly be given whatever their disability is.”
Dr. Witherspoon said he lives by this quote: “‘Your attitude determines your altitude.’ What that means is you can go anywhere in life. Altitude meaning how high you can go. One of the biggest determining factors is our attitude. Do we have optimism for ourselves, do we have belief for ourselves, do we have high expectations for others, and do we have a good attitude towards others?”
Dr. Witherspoon shared his thoughts on the word “disabilities.” He said, “I think that over the years the wording has improved. … I think disability is used in a much more positive way that we all are different and we only have different disabilities. Some more pronounced that requires more attention than others. It is simply recognizing or naming a specific disability.”
Dr. Witherspoon elaborated his thoughts with this next question. “If there was another word for disability would you like that word better?” “Yes, I think I would use ‘differences.’ I think that life and the human experience is about differences and every one of us has differences.”
I was really surprised by the fact that he liked the word disabilities. I really enjoyed this interview because I feel I really learned something from Dr. Witherspoon. So having that experience of getting to interview him makes me feel like there is more to him than just a warm smile, a wave, and a “Have a nice day.”
Lauren Jeanne Miller is a senior at Evanston Township High School. For her Senior Studies project she will interview people in Evanston. Senior Studies is a class that combines English, history, and community service. People with “exceptionalities” are people with disabilities who persevere in what they love. Through this project, Lauren hopes to compare and contrast people’s stories and to empower the people who have not had relationships with people with exceptionalities, showing why giving support to people with exceptionalities is important to society.