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November 24, 2004

2nd-graders learn about disabilities

From: South Brunswick Post - South Brunswick,NJ,USA - Nov 24, 2004

By: Elaine Worden, Staff Writer

Program at Indian Fields School aims to celebrate uniqueness.

Second-graders lined the halls of Indian Fields School, wide-eyed and curious, as five unfamiliar faces walked through the hall.

A man in a wheelchair, a little person, a woman with glasses, a young girl and a man with his arm tucked into his sleeve walked past the children, smiling and saying hello to them. The children waved and smiled back.

"It's like a parade," one student whispered.

On Thursday morning, second-graders celebrated uniqueness with the five guest speakers. The speakers, who had both visible and invisible disabilities, spoke to second-graders as each class rotated from speaker to speaker every 10 minutes. Organized by Amy Robles, Indian Fields' student assistance counselor, the speakers were there to discuss their disabilities and the strengths they gained from them.

"It's understanding that we're all so different and celebrating that," said Ms. Robles.

Ms. Robles, who has been integrating disabilities awareness into the district's curriculum for the past six years, finds that the speakers help make the idea of disabilities more tangible for the children.

Wearing a black sweatshirt and standing in the front of a second-grade class his left sleeve covering his arm was Don Rosenburg, a technology teacher at Crossroads North. Teacher Aline Galvano's second-grade class sat cross legged on the floor just in front of him.

"Good morning Mr. Rosenburg," the class recited.

"Good morning, second-grade class," he said to the children.

Mr. Rosenburg began telling the students about his disability, birth injury to his left arm, called Herbs palsy. "I do have an arm, it doesn't work too well, it doesn't grow too well," he explained as he rolled up his sleeve to show the students his arm.

The students listened intently as Mr. Rosenburg spoke.

"It doesn't stop me from doing anything I want to do," he said.

Mr. Rosenburg told the students how he hikes, fishes, is a lifeguard, and has been to 43 out of all the 50 states in the nation.

Instead of simply telling the students that he can do things that people might think he can't do, he showed them.

Propping one of his legs on a chair so that everyone could see what he was doing, Mr. Rosenburg tied his shoelaces with one hand.

"It might be difficult for you to do with one arm, but you'd get used to it," he said.

Pulling out a carton of eggs and a frying pan out of a bag, Mr. Rosenburg then showed the students how to crack an egg with one hand without breaking the yolk.

But what really amazed the students was when he showed them how he could play baseball with one hand.

Mr. Rosenburg selected second-grader Jack Engel to help him demonstrate. Mr. Rosenburg instructed Jack to throw a grounder to him. As he did, Mr. Rosenburg scooped the ball into his mitt with his right arm, rolled the ball out of the mitt, dropped the mitt onto the floor while the ball was still in midair, and managed to catch the ball with the same hand before it fell to the ground.

"What you need to take out of this is that I do what I want to do," Mr. Rosenburg said to the children. He also told them that they can act normal around people that may look a little different.

The class then migrated to an adjacent classroom to meet Eileen Cooke, also a teacher at Crossroads North. With bobbed blonde hair falling just above her shoulders and a pair of glasses resting on her nose, Ms. Cooke greeted the class. "I don't look very different, do I?" asked Ms. Cooke. The students silently shook their heads.

Ms. Cooke explained that she had a vision disorder called retinitas pigmentosa, and eventually will go blind.

"I cannot see my feet unless I really look down," she said as she stood up and looked toward her feet.

Ms. Cooke told the children how she has adapted to living without being able to see well.

"I had to figure out a way to walk so that I didn't trip and fall," said Ms. Cooke, who also told the children that she had to invent new ways to cook and clean.

"First and foremost, I started asking for help, because that is the most important thing," she said. "I knew that if I was going to be able to handle my difference, I would need someone to help me."

Ms. Cooke emphasized everything that she can do — only that she does it a little bit differently than the majority.

"The one thing I can tell you about people with differences is that they're not that different from you," she said smiling.

After that, it was across the hall to see seventh-grader Caryn Engel, a student at Crossroads South.

Sitting in a chair at the front of the room, Caryn introduced herself. When she asked if the class could tell what her disability was, she was at a disadvantage because the students knew her already, being that her little brother Jack was a member of the class.

"Sometimes you can see a person's disability, like if they're in a wheelchair, and sometimes you can't," said Caryn, who has a cochlear implant.

Caryn said that as a baby, her parents noticed she didn't babble like other children did, and was taken to an audiologist who discovered she was having problems hearing.

Caryn explained how the ear works and even passed around a cochlear implant for children to try on. Caryn showed the children that a cochlear implant is an electronic device surgically implanted under the skin and behind the ear that picks up sound. With the use of a microphone, the implant arranges sound to be transmitted and converted into electric impulses and sends them to the brain.

Caryn also is able to read lips, which is important for when she needs to take off her implant to shower or swim. "When there's more noise in the background it's harder for me to hear, but that doesn't mean I can't hear," she said.

At home, Caryn uses an alarm clock that vibrates, which she stuffs under her pillow to help her wake up in the morning.

"I have no direction of sound," she said. "I'll hear you but not know where you are."

Just as the other speakers did, Caryn emphasized that despite her differences, she's the same as everybody else.

"Even though people have disabilities, it's not what they look like on the outside, it's what's on the inside," Caryn said.

The class gave Caryn a round of applause before moving out into the hallway, where Javier Robles was waiting for them.

Mr. Robles, a quadriplegic, sat in a wheelchair. Beside him, lying on the floor, was Janus, a male golden retriever and Lab mix service dog.

Mr. Robles, who works at the state Division of Disabilities in Trenton, began by explaining that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else.

"Lots of times the only things that makes us different are the things that you can see," said Mr. Robles.

"The most important thing is how they're the same as us and not different," he continued.

Mr. Robles injured his spinal cord when he fell out of a tree when he was 16. Although the children were genuinely interested in what he was saying, they anxiously awaited to see Janus at work.

"Does anyone know the number one rule for service dogs?" Mr. Robles asked the class.

"You can't pet the dog," the children recited.

Mr. Robles told the children that they were right, and that it's a safety hazard to distract a working service dog.

"Does he bite?" one child asked.

"No, he doesn't bite," Mr. Robles said.

After calling on his daughter, Maya Robles, a student in Ms. Galvano's class, Mr. Robles began a demonstration with Janus.

Maya then dropped a pen on the floor so that Janus could pick it up and hand it to her.

The students giggled.

"Janus is so used to picking things up that sometimes I drop things I don't even want and Janus picks them up for me," said Mr. Robles, who told the children that Janus even helps him with the photo copier at work.

After saying goodbye to Mr. Robles and Janus, the students traveled to their last speaker, Christine Cripps. Ms. Cripps also works at the Division of Disabilities.

Ms. Cripps, who is 4 feet, 6 inches tall, said she has a rare form of dwarfism called cleidocranial displaysia.

"There aren't many people that have what I have," said Ms. Cripps, who told the children that her right leg is longer than her left leg.

Ms. Cripps asked the students if they had heard of the words elf, midget and leprechaun, to which the students said yes. She then explained that it isn't nice to call people those names, and to only call them little people.

"Little people can be lawyers, little people can be doctors, little people can get married," said Ms. Cripps.

"What if I told you I could do something you can't do?" she asked the children.

After pointing out that she doesn't have a collarbone, Ms. Cripps held out her arms straight in front of her and made her elbows touch, then stretched them all the way behind her.

The children tried to mimic her movements, but weren't able to stretch out their arms as completely as she could.

Then she showed the children how she ties her shoe, since she can't bend down to tie it since her hips are dislocated.

Bending her leg behind her and leaning her foot on a wall, Ms. Cripps reached behind her and blindly tied her shoe.

Much like the other speakers, Ms. Cripps explained how she has adapted to live life. With the use of things like low cabinets and stools in her apartment and extensions on the pedals of her car, she is able to do everything a larger sized person can do.

"It's OK to say hello and not stare," she told the students, noting that it feels uncomfortable to be stared at.

"Even though they're little people they're still grownups," she said.

The second-graders absorbed the information like little sponges.

Amy Caruso enjoyed seeing Janus at work.

"I learned you should never pet a service dog," she said.

"Even though people look different, they're all the same," said Maya, who said that everyone should respect people with disabilities.

"We should treat all people with respect," agreed Danielle Hecht.

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