Ivan Natividad

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April 24, 2014
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Nevada County students walk a mile in disabled persons' shoes

Students at Union Hill Elementary School and Cottage Hill Elementary School were asked to walk a mile in the shoes of a disabled person, when A Touch of Understanding (ATOU), a Granite Bay disability awareness program, visited their schools this month, asking students and staff to experience what it would feel like to have a disability.

“A Touch of Understanding provides disability awareness programs designed to educate a new generation to understand the challenges associated with disabilities and to accept and respect all individuals,” ATOU Executive Director Leslie DeDora told The Union.

Founded in 1996, ATOU is a nonprofit organization with the purpose of educating K-12 students on the challenges associated with disabilities. The group is comprised of volunteers, some with disabilities and some without, that come together to help students look beyond the disability, the wheelchair, the braces, the unpredictable behavior, and see the person.

Every year ATOU speaks to around 6,000 students throughout the greater Sacramento area and has served more than 63,000 students since its inception. This year the group came to Nevada County and did multiple schools for the first time.

“The kids are fantastic; we love heading up there,” Dedora said. “They’re enthusiastic and energetic, they are inquisitive and appreciative; and it’s great to have them experience the program and gain that empathy.”

Each student participated in a two-part program that includes activities that allow them to see what it feels like to have a disability.

The students used wheelchairs and mobility canes to understand what people who are blind or paralyzed have to do on a daily basis. Students were also asked to write in Braille, handle braces and artificial limbs, participate in a mirror-writing activity to understand the frustration of a learning disability and listen to a CD replicating how a child with autism may hear certain noises. They also meet with volunteers who have disabilities, who share their experiences on what it’s like for them on a daily basis.

Cottage Hill Principal Karen Montero said that ATOU did workshops at her school on Wednesday for around 90 third-grade students, and that the program taught them career readiness and life-skills the students will take with them for the rest of their lives.

“To be a successful individual in the work place or in a university setting, you have to be able to work with diverse groups of people,” Montero said. “Those people are going to sometimes be people with disabilities, so to be able to understand and accept people who are different, for whatever reason, is an important life skill, and it will absolutely play a role in these students’ success in life.”

After the workshop, Cottage Hill third-grade student Anders Torgerson told The Union that after going through the activities, he will be more understanding toward people with disabilities.

“I can see how the people feel,” Anders said. “Like blind people, how they have to have a stick to walk. Now I know when I see someone like that, I’m going to be nice to them and say hi, and look them in the eye and tell other people not to make fun of them because I know what it’s like.”

For Pleasant Ridge Union District Superintendent Rusty Clark, ATOU’s program for students not only lets them experience how disabled people live, but also gives them perspective on the little privileges people without disabilities have every day.

“It’s important not only for our students, but our community, to understand that for those who are able and capable, that we take it for granted,” Clark said. “People who can’t do the simple things, like brushing our teeth or getting out of bed, our students need to realize that it’s a blessing to do those things without any effort, and that for someone with a disability it can be a struggle for them.”

Nick Thompson, 9, told The Union that ATOU gave him perspective on how to treat people with disabilities.

“I really loved it because it just taught me that some people have autism and bad disabilities and you have to be kind to them and not be mean and laugh at them,” Nick said.

“I’m going to be nice to them because it’s not nice to be rude to people that have disabilities, they’re still pretty much the same people they just do different things.”

On April 10, ATOU did activities for more than 70 sixth-grade students at Union Hill Elementary School, and Principal Joe Limov said the school’s student body council raised funds for the group to come. Limov told The Union that the program was an amazing experience, not only for the students, but for the staff.

“Mrs. Jennings, who teaches sixth grade, looked at me with almost tears in her eyes and said, ‘We’ve got to do this every year,’” Limov said. “The development, not just understanding, but beyond that to empathy so that these sixth- grade kids see the world differently now.”

For more information, go to www.touchofunderstanding.org

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

“A Touch of Understanding provides disability awareness programs designed to educate a new generation to understand the challenges associated with disabilities and to accept and respect all individuals.”
ATOU Executive Director Leslie DeDora

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The Union Updated Apr 24, 2014 06:56PM Published Apr 25, 2014 08:54PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.