The Let’s Be Fair event, to educate young children about the struggles disabled people deal with on a daily basis, was held at Proctor Elementary School last Friday. Students learned how disabled people navigate through daily life by working in small groups in several stations.
“The event helps raise awareness for the children and helps teach them empathy,” Proctor Elementary principal Christy Coloutti said. “Honestly, this is one of my favorite events every year.”
This is the third year the school has held the event. Partnering with DAARA, the Disabled Access and Advocacy of the Rutland Area, and the Vermont Center for Independent Living, educators brought in people with disabilities to speak to the children.
Glenn Reed, a peer advocate counselor coordinator with VCIL, showed the children pictures of disabled parking spaces as well as stairs and non-ADA bathrooms. He pointed out how hard it is for disabled people to navigate them.
“We work with people who have disabilities,” Reed said as he told the children about the mission of DAARA and the work they do, “and try to make the community more accessible.”
Before the children were asked to get in wheelchairs and navigate around cones set up in the gym, they met Jess Butterfield.
“I came here today to show you some of the challenges you face when you have to get around on wheels,” Butterfield, a peer advocate counselor with VCIL, said as she showed the first graders how she navigates crosswalks with her cane in her motorized wheelchair. “I can feel the bumps on the curb with my cane and then I know I’m about to cross into the street,” said Butterfield, who is blind and using a wheelchair for mobility.
At other stations, the children were taught about cerebral palsy and how hard it is to accomplish simple daily tasks when nerves do not respond like they should. To get a sense of those difficulties, the students put on large latex gloves and tried to button a shirt or remove and apply stickers to their own shirts.
“We are the only school in the area that does this program,” Coloutti said. “I wish more of the schools would adopt the program because the children are so engaged.”
The children were also blindfolded and attempted to write their names. They were given white canes to navigate across the gym floor. Padded mats and cushions were set out to simulate obstacles the children needed to avoid.
Later in the day, a blind martial artist named Josh Tabor gave the children a demonstration. Tabor has been taking lessons at the Academy of Rising Suns from instructor Kathy Scarcello for nine years. He studies a mixture of martial arts with many styles that is combined into one.
He said he has learned to develop the necessary skills to be successful. In January, he took a two and a half hour test to earn his new brown belt. Tabor said it took, ”lots of sweat, tears, and dedication.”
“This event is not only fun for the kids,” Coloutti said, “but they learn how difficult it is to live with a disability so it helps them empathize with disabled people, and that helps the children be better community members. Even just getting them to tell an adult they are not to park in a disabled parking space is a positive step.”