Pennsylvania Parents and Caregivers Resource Network

Project A.B.L.E.: Acceptance By Learning Experiences© 

Nearly four years ago, members of a Special Education support group called PERC (Parents/Education/ Resources/Community) found that we had even more in common than we thought! All the members had children who attended school in the Hazleton Area School District, and all the children were included with typical peers to some extent. We also discovered that we shared another common experience: The Whisper.

The Whisper appears when parents of children with special needs enter a school building. Within moments a teacher, student, administrator or staff would approach looking highly uncomfortable. In a loud, self-conscious whisper, they would then ask a question about the child's disability like: "Will his feeding button pull out if he hits it on the side of the pool?" or "Why does she cover her ears when the bell rings?" As parents, we found this uneasiness to be very disturbing. We were not ashamed to discuss the challenges our children faced, and we felt that school personnel should not be uncomfortable when asking. We were also alarmed at some of the questions and comments. They often underestimated the difficulty of tasks, or attributed problems to laziness or lack of interest - when in truth it was a manifestation of the disAbility.

Kim Huff, a PERC member, suggested that we find a way to let these typical individuals "walk a mile in the shoes" of our children. Her idea was immediately adopted, and Project A.B.L.E. was conceived. It took nearly two years for the actual birth of the project, but it was two years well spent!

Currently, Project A.B.L.E. presents about 15-20 sessions a year. We offer businesses, agencies, scouts, student teachers, teachers, civic groups, and students an opportunity to utilize equipment and devices that simulate specific disabilities. We have the presentation divided into 4 learning stations:

Mobility - we offer the opportunity to attempt an obstacle course in a wheelchair, wrap participants in elastic bands to limit limb usage, and encourage them to try "mobility" using braces, canes, and crutches.

Fine Motor - participants put on gloves or have their hands taped shut, and then attempt to utilize the devices (locks, keys, shoe laces) we use daily. They also have the opportunity to create their own snack with their fingers immobilized.

Communication - small teams of participants attempt to communicate basic wants and needs to each other using various alternative communication methods.

Learning Disabilities - This station is perhaps the most involved, but frequently proves to be the most shocking to people. Participants attempt to complete basic Kindergarten and second grade schoolwork which is placed in a specially designed LDBox . Some are also offered the use of headphones and amplifiers that encourage distractibility. Elements of this station are also used to acknowledge the challenges of ADD/ADHD and Autism.

The true success of Project A.B.L.E. is that it is fun and challenging. We offer the opportunity for people to ask questions and break down the barriers of fear and misunderstanding.

Comments from prior presentations include:

"All this time I thought the kid next to me was stupid, now I have to help him!" - said with disgust by a 9 year old Cub Scout after finishing the Learning DisAbilities station.

"I've been a teacher for 12 years. And I just found out that for 12 years I have been perpetuating failure." - Learning Resource teacher for the Philadelphia Public Schools after completing the LD station.

Project A.B.L.E. is made possible through the Family Service Association of Wyoming Valley. Funding has been generously provided through the Blue Ribbon Foundation of NEPA, the United Way of Greater Hazleton, BoxTops for Education, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Project A.B.L.E. 2000

This article was prepared, by Diana Frances, for distribution through Pennsylvania Parents and Caregivers Resource Network
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