After leading Angelo L. Tomaso School fifth-grade students through a series of exercises demonstrating the challenges faced daily by people with disabilities on Friday, Amy Burns, of the ARC of Somerset, hammered home the point.
She tested the students by telling them she had two of the dozen disabilities discussed at the workshop, and challenged them to guess which two. Then, she shared her story of losing an eye and her right leg below the knee following treatment for a sports injury.
The students' attention focused when Burns showed them her artificial limb.
"You couldn't tell I had any disability could you?" she asked. "I hope you guys take that forward and never be mean to someone with disabilities."
Point made—and according to Kelly Maire, ALT's guidance counselor who helped organized the presentation after also doing so at Mr. Horeb School, the lessons stick with the students.
"I think we saw sensitivity increased after the presentations," Maire said of her Mt. Horeb experience with the ARC presentation. "I think having an awareness helps because the kids experience it."
That experience included trying to fold towels without using arms, or writing the alphabet in a mirror. Another test challenged the students to assemble puzzles—while blindfolded; or asked them to copy a list of 20 words read very quickly.
The students then discussed what types of possible disabilities were replicated in the tasks, as well as how the students felt while trying to undertake the tests.
After the students acknowledged how difficult the experiences were, Burns pointed out that when confronted by someone challenged by a task which many find easy, they should avoid name calling or making any assumptions as to the cause.
"You have to remember how hard it may be and how hurtful it is," she said.
The program was developed by Burns several years ago, and she and others from the ARC have made the presentation in various area schools—Friday's classes in Warren followed one in Watchung. Helping with the presentation were Mary Atchey, Linda Jacob, Kathy Kolodziaj and Joanne Kaiser, all of the ARC.
Warren school officials hope to bring the program to all of the district's schools, but Burns said funding for the visits has been a challenge—for Friday's presentations, she, Kolodziaj and Kaiser volunteered their time.