Project Gives Students A Glimpse Into Life With Disabilities

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — "Once ubom a tmie there was a friembl dobl."


While that sentence may seem to be gibberish, Concrete Elementary School students learned earlier this month that it is how some of their classmates may read the sentence "Once upon a time there was a friendly dog."


"By understanding each other, we can treat each other better," said Jana Toomey with the Maple Valley-based IDEA Project.


Founded by a woman whose son has Down syndrome, the IDEA Project is a nonprofit that travels to schools to help students better understand classmates with disabilities.


"Differences are good and we want to be unique," Toomey said. "Think about how you can treat people you meet that have disabilities, you might not know they have disabilities."


Concrete students in kindergarten through sixth grade got the chance to imagine what it would be like to have a variety of disabilities — from blindness to learning disorders — through interactive experiences.


"It increases their empathy for other people and it gives them patience," parent volunteer Jacen Martin said. "Have patience with your neighbors, your friends, because you don't know what they're going through."


In one of the activities, students closed their eyes and had mere minutes to attempt to learn braille and read a sentence.


Other students had to attempt to follow instructions while headphones played noises and they were tickled with a feather duster.


The students participated in each station for three-and-a-half minutes.


"Think what it would be like to have that disability all day long," Toomey said. "Every day."


In its seven years, Toomey said the IDEA Project has seen a 70 percent reduction in bullying among students at schools in the districts it works with statewide.


"It's a lot better understanding," she said. "More inclusiveness."


That was the goal in bringing the IDEA Project to Concrete, Principal Jaci Gallagher said.


"Our hope is this school visit will provide instruction, awareness and understanding to students while honoring people with disabilities," Gallagher said.


Teacher Rachel Nyberg said she hopes the students come away from the lesson with more ways to communicate with their classmates.


"When they're working with a classmate who has a disability, (this) gives them compassion and a different way to approach that," she said. "It broadens their methods to communicate."


Student Hayley Daniels said the day gave her a greater understanding of her classmates.


"Even if people have a disability, they can still do things, it just takes them a little longer," Hayley said. "You want to help them more because it can be really hard for them."