Saturday, April 16, 2016

Disability Awareness Lunch Program

Earlier this year our special services administrator, Mrs. Courtney Eubanks, approached me about participating in Disability Awareness Week. I was very interested in the idea. It is important to serve all types of learners in the library and give them a voice. I was especially interested in a disability awareness activity that Mrs. Eubanks described to me. She told me that she had access to several activities that allowed students to experience disabilities in a learning station format. I shared this activity with the library staff, and we were all excited to give it a try. We also partnered with our local First Step organization that assists students with disabilities in our community. It was decided that we would have a fundraiser in the library for First Step during Disability Awareness Week.

The "Walk a Mile In My Shoes" Activity

We decided to have a total of four learning stations for students to experience on the day of the event. Our Family and Consumer Science teacher, Mrs. Tonja Bolding, offered to have her Special Olympics Partners Club students lead each activity. There was a tactile disability simulation, a visual disability simulation, a video depicting characteristics of autism, and a squeeze machine demonstration. I wanted to get feedback from students at the end of the event, so we could find out how the activities impacted them. The activity was appropriately named "Walk a Mile in My Shoes."

Tactile Disability Simulation

This activity featured a simulation of what it might be like for the participant to experience a tactile perception disability. Students put on gloves with thick padding. They were then asked to put beads on pipe cleaners. After this, participants were required to attempt tying their shoes. The station proved to be very frustrating for students.

Visual Disability Simulation

This learning station consisted of safety goggles with a coat of petroleum jelly on the lenses. Participants were asked to read a page of text featuring different sized fonts. The presenter also asked students to copy the text on notebook paper. When I tried this activity, I had to hold the paper right up to my face. I could barely read the largest font. It caused me to realize how much I take my vision for granted!

Autism Sensory Overload Simulation Video

This video showed what sensory overload might be like for a person with autism. It depicts an individual walking inside a busy store (like Wal-Mart or a grocery store). The sounds of people and noise get increasingly louder as the person walks through the store. As the noise increases to uncomfortable levels, the person's vision deteriorates. When they finally walk outside into the parking lot, the sounds become more calm and their vision seems to return to normal.

Squeeze Machine Demonstration

This station featured a discussion and demonstration of our school squeeze machine. The student presenter discussed how he has used the squeeze machine. I was very proud of him for sharing this personal experience of how the device helps calm him down when he is feeling stress. Student participants were then allowed to try the squeeze machine, so they could experience the device for themselves. Several students used the machine during the lunch program.

Student Reflections

"This opened my eyes to how difficult everyday tasks can be to people with disabilities. I enjoyed getting to know about (different) disabilities and how (they) affect people." - Jason R.

"Simple tasks like tying your shoes and opening books is much more difficult for those with disabilities..." 

"... I understand why they (Autistic students) wear hearing protection and sunglasses... I never knew about the about (the effects) of the sound and the lights..." - Cade L.

"It really opened my eyes to experience this event. I couldn't imagine playing soccer without my good eyesight!" - Joseph P.

"I had no idea how hard it would be to do basic tasks with a disability. With the visual I could not even read the paper along with taking notes. With the tactile I could not even tie my shoes. I had no idea it was so difficult to deal with a disability." - Barrett J.

Administrator Reflection

Mrs. Eubanks describes the Squeeze Machine to participants
"Raising awareness about different disabilities has been a great experience. Today we provided a disability simulation for our students- This gave our students an opportunity to feel the way some of our students feel for just a few minutes. By the student comments, we were able to see this had opened their eyes and raised empathy and understanding for students with disabilities." - Courtney Eubanks, Lakeside School District Special Services Administrator

Next Steps

This week was wonderful for our learning community. It gave some of our students with disabilities a chance to share their voice. It allowed students without disabilities a chance to better understand what others may go through in their classes. During this disability awareness week, I actually heard one 8th grade autistic student sharing about his experiences and how he had learned to overcome many obstacles through the years. Other students discussed their experiences with disabilities in their own families. We displayed many books on disabilities to advertise relevant library resources to students.

We are already discussing how we can improve disability awareness programming next year. We plan to expand the awareness activities for students in 2017. Some of the ideas included additional guest speakers and educational videos. I was very pleased that we were able to inform students about this topic in the school library. I want to continue looking for more ways to inform our learners of such subjects and help generate empathy. The library is a hub for everyone in the school. This activity was another step in the right direction! Many thanks to Mrs. Courtney Eubanks, Mrs. Tonja Bolding, and all the students involved. They made a difference in our learning community!

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