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April 29, 2006

Barriers no longer

From: Centre Daily Times - Centre County,PA,USA - Apr 29, 2006

Nearly 300 fifth-grade students attend awareness event at SDSBVI

By Scott Waltman
American News Writer

Physical barriers aren't the only things that can hamper folks with disabilities.

Many people without disabilities have attitudinal barriers about people who do, Marje Kaiser told a group of nearly 300 fifth-grade students from the Aberdeen area Friday. Kaiser is the superintendent at the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen. She spoke briefly as SDSBVI hosted Barrier Awareness Day.

It's time to get rid of both kinds of barriers and treat people with disabilities the same as anybody else, Kaiser said.

Joseph Hagen, 15, is a freshman at Central High School. He said he's one of three deaf students at the school. He spoke to the fifth-graders Friday, telling them that people sometimes do discriminate against him because he's deaf.

Hagen said some people think he's stupid because he can't hear. "They need to get interested in me as a person," he said.

Both Hagen and Eric Vetter, an Aberdeen real estate agent who lost use of both of his legs in a motorcycle accident and is now in a wheelchair, answered many questions from the audience. Here's a sampling of their answers:

• Yes, you can ride some carnival rides even if you are partially paralyzed, Vetter said.

• Yes, you can take escalator if you use a wheelchair, Vetter said.

• Deaf students at CHS take the same classes as all other students, Hagen said.

• Yes, Vetter still drives his motorcycle. He also drives a car and has even gone snow skiing.

• No, he hasn't had a job yet, but Hagen said he will someday. There are many jobs deaf people can do.

• Hagen said his hobbies include playing video games, camping with his family and meeting other people who are deaf.

• No, the steel rod in his back doesn't hurt, Vetter said. But it does set off metal detectors at the airport.

• It can be aggravating not being able to hear what people are saying, Hagen said. When at school, he has a sign language interpreter who helps him communicate with others.

• After his August 1993 motorcycle accident, Vetter said he spent two months in the hospital.

Vetter, a member of the Opportunities for Independent Living board, said barriers such as street curbs and narrow doors can be challenging for people in wheelchairs. He works in town to help create awareness of such issues.

Goal ball fun: Friday morning, elementary school students and community members played goal ball to give them an understanding of what it's like not to be able to see. In goal ball, a ball with bells in it is rolled from one side of the court to another. Players are to stop the ball before it crosses the end of the court. If it crosses the end of the court, it counts as a goal. Players wore blindfolds to simulate blindness. They had to rely on hearing the bells to stop the ball.

Shae Miller, 11, who attends Lincoln Elementary, said it was tough to stop the rolling ball. But, he said, it wasn't hard to keep a sense of direction, even with a blindfold on.

The day's most important lesson? "That everybody's the same. It doesn't matter what disability they have," Miller said.

After lunch, students visited different stations at which they learned about technology that helps people with disabilities, weaved through an obstacle course in a wheelchair, tried to read braille, heard about learning disabilities and more.

SDSBVI hosts Barrier Awareness Day each year. Most SDSBVI students were out of town at either a swimming meet, forensics meet or the Special Olympics.

© 2006 American News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.