IM this article to a friend!

February 28, 2004

Deaf, blind simulation brings awareness

From: Provo Daily Herald - Provo,UT,USA - Feb 28, 2004


Sixth-grader Tyler Watkins became the most popular child in his Cedar Hills school this week as his classmates got a glimpse into his life, his struggles and his desire to communicate.

As part of disability awareness week at Deerfield Elementary School, consultants from the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind gave 750 of Tyler's schoolmates a chance to experience life through the eyes and ears of their deaf and blind classmate. During simulations on Wednesday and Thursday, students wore earphones and blindfolds and were guided by a classmate through various activities -- a walk down the hall, a trip to the water fountain, snacktime and even clean-up time.

"It taught me that people with those disabilities aren't so different from us," said Robin Wright, a sixth-grader at Deerfield. "They just can't hear, and they can't see. But you still have to be kind to them."

Tyler was one reason for the simulation event during disability awareness week, a week of assemblies and activities to help students recognize and glory in everybody's differences. "I think they will have a better idea of how to approach (Tyler) or help him," said Corrie Watkins, Tyler's mother. Watkins organized the week and said that if her son did not have deaf blindness, she still would have asked the Utah School of the Deaf and Blind to bring the experience to Deerfield.

"I still think it would be a valuable experience to know what it feels like to have some of their senses taken away -- especially their hearing or sight -- and I think it made them feel grateful for the hearing and vision they have," Watkins said.

During the simulation, instructors told the students to silently guide their blindfolded partners through the activities and to help them feel walls and objects around them that would help the classmate understand where they were going or what they were doing.

But while the students carefully guided their partners, the instructors walked among the children wiping their faces with cold wet wipes, tickling their necks with feather dusters and adding other unexpected stimulation that might startle a real deaf blind student.

"They rubbed my face with a wet cloth, and it scared me," said sixth-grader Noah Jarman. "I thought it was one of those baby wipes, and I thought 'get it off me,' but I knew I couldn't talk."

In a class discussion after the simulation, consultant Susan Allison told the sixth-graders more about deaf blindness, their experience and their classmate with this disability.

"You didn't like having food just shoved in your mouths, and they wouldn't like that either," Allison said. "It is important that we do things with them and not just to them."

Allison also gave the students three steps for communicating and interacting with someone with a serious disability like Tyler.

First, introduce yourself.

"They still want to know your name," Allison said. "They still want you to talk to them, and they still want to know you are there."

Second, even if they can't hear you, tell them where they are going; and third, when you get there, help them understand what they are about to do, Allison said.

When Tyler's family and friends help him eat, they always say "eat" out loud even if they are not sure he can hear them. They also use sign language and give him an object, like a spoon, that he can feel to prepare him for what is happening next.

Principal Jane Friel said she can already see the impact of the activity on the students.

"I have already had a teacher come to me and say, 'Tyler is now the most popular kid in the school.' Those seem like fast results to me."

Watkins said she hopes the simulation will have an effect on the students' families as students go home and talk about their experience.

"The students grow a compassion for all disabilities, so hopefully it will help the community as they pass it on and more and more people become aware of people with disabilities."

© 2004 Provo Daily Herald