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October 22, 2003

St. Andrew's gets on board the NICIL train

From: Sauk Valley Newspapers, IL - Oct 22, 2003



ROCK FALLS — People with disabilities are just that — people who happen to have disabilities.

They aren't handicapped. According to Donna Kekstadt-Moody, "Handicapped is a golfing or bowling term."

At an assembly at St. Andrew's Elementary School Tuesday she told the students many people have disabilities. Some are easily visible to the casual observer. Other disabilities are "invisible."

She said she acquired an invisible disability after she became an adult.

"To look at me, you wonder, 'What could it be?' I was watching my daughter and her friend play on a Slip 'n' Slide and I thought it looked like fun, so I went inside and put on my swimsuit. I had set the Slip'n'Slide up on a hill. I didn't read the directions and didn't know you aren't supposed to do that. I went to the top and was going to sit down and slide to the bottom. But what happens when you put water on plastic? My feet slipped and I fell. I hit my head really hard and hurt my back."

Moody said she suffered a head injury that has caused her memory to be poorer than it was before and she has more trouble learning new things. She also had to undergo back surgery.

Anyone of any age can have a disability. They can be born with one or acquire one later in life, as she did, Moody told the children. But having a disability doesn't mean being forced to live in a nursing home and being without family and friends.

With her to illustrate the point were some of her associates and clients from Northwest Illinois Center for Independent Living.

Michael Kyger lost his sight seven years ago and uses crutches because his ankles are stiff. Both complications are due to diabetes. He bowls and is teaching his grandsons to fish. Tuesday he and a student tied in a darts contest. With the help of his personal assistant, Connie Woody, he is able to continue to live in his own home and carry on his life.

"I have my clothes hanging a certain way in my closet and all of my socks are the same color so I don't have to worry about matching them," he said. "Computers are nice, but using your mind is important. Pay attention to the world around you. Notice things, like the colors of the leaves in the fall, and the smell of leaves burning when you drive through Rock Falls."

Lynette Bushman's parents noticed she seemed to have trouble hearing when she was just 2 years old. Doctors confirmed she was deaf. She attended a "mainstream" school and learned to read lips and gesture to understand others and be understood. At age 13 she switched to a school for deaf students in Jacksonville.

"I didn't know what to do. It took me two years to learn (American Sign Language)," she said through her interpreter, Dina Frye. "Now, I'm married and I have two children. All of them can hear just fine," and they know ASL.

Bushman has a "hearing dog," but the dog is 14 years old now and sleeps most of the day, she said. So she has equipment in her home to help her overcome the limitations of her disability. The doorbell, alarm clock, baby monitor and telephone all are connected to flashing lights. She is able to use the phone with the help of a TTY line. She types her message and an operator reads her replies to her callers, then types their messages back to Bushman.

"You just dial 771 and the phone number to use it," Bushman said.

Sharon Brown and her husband, Chris, both have disabilities. She uses a wheelchair and has to have a personal assistant to help her with most of her daily activities since being injured in a car accident at age 18 and paralyzed from the chest down since then. But that didn't stop her from being active in her church and on the NICIL board of directors, or from marrying and living at home.

"I do things differently from you, but once I make up my mind I find a way," she said.

Chris Brown is one of her personal assistants. He was born with cerebral palsy and lost his hearing as an infant when he contracted chicken pox. He didn't drive until after he was married. His doctor was afraid he lacked the physical coordination to drive a car, but he proved the doctor wrong. Today, he drives his wife around in a van that has a wheelchair lift.

St. Andrew's students are participating in the Get on Board for NICIL, Nickels for NICIL, fund-raising campaign this week. The classroom that raises the most money gets a free pizza party, Moody said.

NICIL is taking its disabilities awareness program and the Nickels for NICIL program into schools throughout the Sauk Valley.

Copyright 2001-2003 Sauk Valley Newspapers