Avon Lake elementary school students get lesson in what it's like to have a disability

AVON LAKE, OH (WOIO) - As part of Disability Awareness Week, students at Redwood Elementary School got a taste of what it's like to deal with the challenges that adults and other children with conditions like autism, learning disabilities and even blindness, face.

Six stations that simulated different disabilities were set up in the school's gymnasium and nearby hallway recently.

At one station, students tried to maneuver their way around an obstacle course in a wheelchair built for a child.

In another area, there are gloves that the children must put on before they try and button up a shirt, tie shoe laces or snap a snap. That station is designed to help students understand what it's like to live with poor fine motor skills.

One table has an iPad with a program that children with autism use to help them communicate their needs and wants. The students are instructed to communicate something using the pictures.

"It's really hard and frustrating. I can't believe that so many people use it every day," said Connor Lardie, a third-grader at the school.

To demonstrate what it is like to have a learning disability, students are asked to complete a test where the words are written in German.

Administrators say they hope that students will walk away with a better understanding of what some of their peers who have disabilities are going through.

"I heard words like, 'This is frustrating. This is confusing. This is hard. I don't understand what I am supposed to do. This story looks like it is in a different language.' So, all of those are things that kids were starting to internalize and think about what it is like to have a peer at a desk right next to them that may be dealing with some of those things on a daily basis," said Jennifer Fazio, a special education supervisor.

In a short period of time, the unique exercises appeared to have had an impact.

"It teaches them about how they feel - makes them know how it's like being like them or they know what they have to go through," said one of the students who participated.

Educators at Redwood say that recognizing someone that's struggling is the first step towards the students lending a helping hand.

At any given time at Redwood Elementary School, there are 50 children with special needs receiving services through the district's LEAPS, or Learning Early and Parenting Skills program. Preschool age children who are typically developing for their age are also a part of the LEAPS program.

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