What’s it like?

BRANDON SCHOOLS – As a rule, children have little exposure to difficulties of handicapped living. With continued efforts to provide mainstream education for children with daily challenges, however, students are given more opportunities for interaction and empathy.
With the help of the Oakland Schools-sponsored Disability Awareness Workshop program, H.T. Burt Elementary students now have the opportunity to become aware and experience the difficulties of functioning with a handicap.
“With this workshop, children experience some kind of physical impairment,” said volunteer coordinator Sue Daley. “We work with the fourth grade level students because at this age they do feel empathy.”
Daley, a speech therapist by trade, along with Jody Gorges, volunteered to learn the workshop program in order to bring it to the Brandon School District.
The workshop is a one-day, hands-on workshop set up in stations to address hearing, speech, vision and physical impairments. With the help of parent volunteers, students physically experience the effects of limited accessibility, vision impairments, hearing and blindness.
“On the larger obstacle challenges, the kids learn how to manipulate wheelchairs, handicap adaptive tools, gloves with fingers Velcroed together to simulate missing fingers, and going up stairs with one leg tied together,” said Gorges.
The training Gorges and Daley received through Oakland Schools enabled them to teach more than 25 parent volunteers who assisted with the H.T. Burt workshop.
“We get mixed results from the students who experience the handicaps,” said Gorges. “A lot of kids are finding out how much hard work it is just to go up a flight of steps or zipping a jacket with missing fingers.”
According to fourth grade teacher Judy Thurston, the program was a success, but it could not have been possible without the help of the parent volunteers.
“This is really great for the students,” said Thurston “They are really excited about it. Some of the students were apprehensive because they didn’t want to do something unfamiliar. Now they are all doing it.
“We were so lucky to have these parents organize this,” she said. “They did a lot of work and made it easy for us.”
The workshop program was developed and implemented by Lisa Kowalski, the parent of a disabled child.