Walking, unsteadily, a mile in their shoes
Monday, December 11, 2006



arrowTristan Ponseca, a pupil at Randall Carter Elementary School in Wayne, taking part in the disability awareness day program.

They had trouble reading, seeing and buttoning a collared shirt, but the difficulties the students faced were thankfully only temporary.


About 370 students, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, wore goggles smeared with Vaseline that distorted their vision and earphones that muffled their hearing as part of the Wayne school district's first disability awareness day program. The school has two classes of students who have a range of disabilities from autism to dyslexia to Down syndrome to cerebral palsy.


"These exercises put our students in the shoes of challenged students," said Kenneth E. Kaplan, the principal of the Randall Carter Elementary School. "At the end of the day I would like the students to have a better understanding of what kids with disabilities go through."


As part of the program, students tried to button a collared shirt wearing a tube sock on each hand. "It was very hard," said second-grader Sarah Mallanga. "I didn't even get one buttoned."


With the socks still on, they were also asked to spread cream cheese on a cracker.


Other exercises included communicating by pointing to pictures, maneuvering a wheelchair around an obstacle course, reading Braille books and using mirrors to attempt to read words spelled backward.


Matthew Gould, a first-grader who has cerebral palsy, took the day off from school at nearby Theunis Dey to attend the program with his mom, Kim, who teaches first grade at Randall Carter.


It didn't take long for Matthew to begin giving impromptu lessons about his disability from the seat of his motorized wheelchair.


"I was shocked. I just brought him in and the students started asking him questions," she said of her precocious 6-year-old son, who hopes to become a construction worker. "Who better for the kids to learn from than another kid?"


First-grader Joseph Perez, 6, said, "I think he's cool. He's just like me."


The program concluded in the gymnasium with a presentation about being blind from Seeing Eye volunteer Jack Strangfield and Marilyn Rodda, who was accompanied by her Seeing Eye dog, Elman.


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