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The NC Boys Choir and the Individuals With Disabilities Act

By Dan Cahoon
Posted Monday, September 24, 2007

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Moncure, NC - My son was a participant in the North Carolina Boys Choir until last spring when the director of that group kicked him out. My son was kicked out of the choir because I confronted the director for his comments about the abilities of my son.

My son has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy. He is actually very lucky in that he has only mild (relatively) problems with walking, more serious difficulty with running, and even more serious difficulty with jumping. He also has balance issues and tires easily. He has seizures about three or four times a week that leave him drained and trembling, sometimes to the
point where he can't do simple tasks. Anyone who experiences seizures in their life would understand. My son's seizures are not treatable and do not cause further damage as do many other forms of epilepsy. We do limit his intake of caffeine and try to get him the rest he needs to function with this disability.

Bill Graham, the director of the NC Boys Choir, made comments on the amount of time it took for my son to button his choir robe. He did this in front of the whole choir and it humiliated my son. My son cried about this incident. My wife asked (gently) about this incident and was told the director had concerns about my son going on tour. The incident
happened on a mini-tour, when the choir was moving quickly from one performance to the next. There was not a lot of time for costume changes and so the boys are encouraged to stay organized and on task. My son was given the wrong robe, buttoned it up painstakingly, was given the right robe, and then unbuttoned the wrong robe and then painstakingly buttoned the right robe. This held up the group.

Bill Graham made several comments about my son's slowness. My wife seemed unsatisfied with his response but was unsure about what to do next. Her main concern was that our son is safe and has the necessary accommodations on the next, much longer, tour. I agreed.

I also asked Mr. Graham about his comments. I mentioned the Individuals With Disabilities Act and asked him if he had considered the inappropriateness of his comments. That was when Bill Graham flew off into a tirade, cussed me out, said he "didn't even know" that my son had a problem. That statement concerned me so I asked the assistant director and the parent volunteer who has helped my son in the past if they knew about my son's condition. They wouldn't say out loud that they knew, only nodded.

They did express concern about my son's ability to handle the upcoming "Big Tour" in June. I offered to accompany my son to help out; they said there wasn't room for me on the tour. Now, while I am talking to them about this, Bill Graham is ranting and raving about "never being told there was a problem". He started cussing at me and yelling and telling me that my son "was out, kicked out". All of this happened on the day of a performance. My son had spent two weeks preparing for the performance. He was worn out, had given up his Saturday mornings for weeks now to be in this performance.

I was not gentle in my response. I know my rights. If someone tells me to "go to hell" I know how to respond. I was and still am livid about this incident.

I did contact the board of directors for the boy’s choir. They informed me that they did not think Bill Graham acted inappropriately. Apparently, they only needed to hear his side of the story. I was not allowed to attend any board meetings to discuss the matter.

I am writing this letter to help put this terrible experience behind me, to allow my son to move on to more tolerant musical venues. I think there are good organizations out there that can help my son use his talent. There are currently none nearby. Perhaps there is someone in Chatham County that could help create a singing group that my son could join without fear of discrimination. I know I will look into the history of any group that I join to see how individuals with disabilities have been treated.

The North Carolina Boys Choir is not an organization suited to individuals with disabilities. Bill Graham, the director is unstable and clueless regarding the rights of individuals with disabilities. He is unwilling to face his own foibles in this area. He told me that not everyone is as understanding of those with disabilities as I am. This is true. I am a teacher, and so trained to give everyone I encounter access to facilities, understanding, compassion, and tolerance. It is not always easy. I have hauled wheel chairs over ravines to get disabled children out in nature and part of the group. I have waited patiently while children with cerebral palsy slowly walk down a simple path. I have held my son while he shivers and
moans during a seizure, thinking about how we were going to get through the day. I am not anything special, just a caring person who recognizes the concept behind the Individuals With Disabilities Act. I think it is good law that was enacted because people like Bill Graham of the North Carolina Boys Choir don't always think they need to accommodate
individuals with disabilities. I think the law helps people like Bill Graham do what is right. Unfortunately, he does not believe the law pertains to him.

It does, it will. It always did. I will speak up for my child and any individual denied access to facilities or services due to their disability. I urge any who read this to contact the NC Boys Choir and let the board of directors know that the Individuals With Disabilities Act pertains to EVERYONE, even grumpy choir directors.

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