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Mead students experience reading with a simulated vision disability

What does it feel like to have a disability? The Margaret Mead Elementary School PTSA wanted students to be able to empathize with their peers who face mobility, learning or other challenges. As part of Disability Awareness Month, they set up a Disability Awareness Fair with eight learning stations.

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Students learn that not all disabilities are evident from the outside


Mead students try various tasks with work gloves on to simulate the experience of someone with a disability.What does it feel like to have a disability? The PTSA at Margaret Mead Elementary School wanted students to be able to empathize with their peers who face mobility, learning or other challenges. As part of Disability Awareness Month, they set up a Disability Awareness Fair with eight learning stations for students in third, fourth and fifth grades.

At the motor planning station, students tried to tie a shoe and button a shirt with work gloves on. A parent volunteer asked the students if they could imagine going through an entire day with the gloves on. Struggling with these every-day activities really hits home for them, she said.

To mimic low-vision, students tried on goggles smeared with Vaseline. At the hearing station, they learned the difference between hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Students were asked to read a paragraph designed to look like what someone with dyslexia might see. Students also tried to write their names while looking in a mirror and were surprised with the messy results. “It’s so confusing,” said one fifth-grader after trying the activity.

Mead students experience using a wheelchair.While wheeling themselves around the Mead library, students trying out wheelchairs found that it was a challenge to maneuver around sharp corners. They also had difficulty picking up a
book or ball off the floor.

Students with sensory disorders have difficulty processing what people say, see or feel because the brain has trouble organizing information from the senses. This can cause oversensitivity to sights, sounds, textures, flavors or smells.

When students have an auditory processing disorder, for instance, they can’t filter out background noise that they don’t need. To give participants an idea of what this might feel like, they listened to music through headphones while a volunteer asked simple questions.

Another volunteer used rough materials such as a dish scrubber and wool mittens to demonstrate the experience of students who are sensitive to textures.

Students watched an interview with the aunt of two Mead students who has FOP. Her rare disorder causes muscle tissue and connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments to be gradually replaced by bone, which constrains movement. She uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

At the speech and language station, students learned alternative ways to communicate: Students who are nonverbal can use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to communicate using pictures. A communication device can also talk for students when they push specific buttons.

The school’s special needs liaison, Lara Osborn, organized the event this year. Osborn is also a speech language pathologist. “I want them to know that kids are kids,” she said. It has been about five years since the school organized the fair. Volunteers staff the stations during the two days of demonstrations.