South Plainfield: Students Experience Life With a Disability


During Grant Elementary School’s fourth Annual Disabilities Awareness Day, students experienced firsthand what it is like to have disabilities. Activities are designed to simulate having autism, impairment of the senses and physical handicaps. Videos and class discussions also contributed to the day that brought new understanding and compassion for those who are disabled.

Each of the twelve teachers in Grant’s Special Education Department were asked to pick a disability to focus on. They created exercises, lessons and donated supplies to the general education teachers they collaborated with. The school’s Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist and Behavioralist departments were also a part of the preparation.

“I think it’s amazing to have this day,” said Vanessa Proietto, Special Education Teacher, Language Learning Disabilities Program. “It brings understanding, culture and depth to the world that we live in, into the world of inclusion. We no longer shun our students or our community members with disabilities. This is just a nice way to open up understanding and to build empathy within a young population.”

Physical Education classes focused on doing physical activities without the sense of sight while relying on friends for guidance as they ran laps and played volleyball in the gymnasium.

“Today, we are going to do exercises as if you do not have sight,” said Physical Education Teacher Maureen Barnett. “I’m going to give you a really good explanation because safety is our first concern. We are going to partner up and one of you will put on a blindfold. One person puts this blindfold on, the other one has a partner, you put your hand on their shoulder. They are now responsible for your safety.”

“Gym was really fun,” said Jessica Grines, sixth grader. “It really did give me a good idea of what it felt like to be blind. I do have a friend with cerebral palsy and he’s in my gym class. He’s a very good person and a lot of people underestimate him. They think get can’t do stuff, but he really can.”

“This day is so important to me,” said Sabrina Correa, sixth grade student with cerebral palsy. “I know that there are so many people out there with developmental issues or physical disabilities. Our acceptance of people with disabilities is far from perfect, but it so much better than it used to be. I’m so grateful to have all these great people in my life that see me for me.”

“Disabilities Awareness Day is effective and evokes a lot of emotion,” said Michelle Kirchofer, Science and Special Education Teacher. “Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there’s frustration, but the best part is that it creates conversation and hopefully, effects change for the better. I love today. It’s my favorite day of the year!”

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