New England PVA "What's it Like" Program
The following is reprinted from the New England PVA Cord Word Newsletter
story by Mike Guilbault photos by Harley Freedman
On June 5 we visited the Cunningham Elementary School in Milton, MA and presented the New England PVA “What’s It Like” program to 4th and 5th grade students. This program is to promote disability awareness and informs the students about how we go about living a normal life in a wheelchair. We not only explain the central nervous system and what it is like to be paralyzed, but also, we explain other disabilities such as MS, CP, MD and birth defects among others. I hope this helps the students understand they can encounter disabled individuals of all ages. We do a small presentation and then we get the students into wheelchairs to run an obstacle course and try shooting baskets. Our main point to get across is that even though we may be mobility impaired, we are still very much like them. We are sports fans who love our Boston teams, like to go to games and we like to play and do many things they and their families do.
After playing in the chairs, the children are much more comfortable talking with us all. We had a small group at this school and had more time to play, so we even had the students doing relay races through the obstacle course before ending play time. We then hold a question and answer session where they do come up with great questions. Many of them are about what kind of things we can do. I’m never surprised by the great questions and am happy to inform them that we do just about anything they can if we choose to. We may have to adapt and do it a bit differently, but still can do it! I have to say after doing this over 10 years, this class asked some questions I’ve never heard before. Never underestimate how smart and observant a 4th grader can be. They are the ones surprised when they find out we shoot, bowl, swim, kayak, fish, water ski, hand-cycle, play basketball, softball, sled hockey and even power soccer. When winter comes we can snowmobile, snow ski, play quad rugby and again, many of the same things they do with their families. Many have seen wheelchairs in the marathon and we mention that many do triathlons also along with track and field meets. Some go on to be Paralympic athletes.
This was our last school visit this year and we had an amputee come also. The children were really interested in the prosthetic leg and Shawn did a great job explaining to them how he still has all his nerves and sometimes scratches itches he gets even on his prosthetic leg. He removed it and passed it around and when asked, he even showed them his stump. Many thanks to Shawn Delfino, Damon Isles, Charles Schena and Mark Sanders for coming out and volunteering to do the presentation with me. The Milton Times was there and they plan on publishing a story on our visit sometime after June 21. I’d like to thank Linda Farwell for inviting us and Harley Freedman for coming down and taking photos of our time with the students. I’m always looking for new volunteers to help with the school visits so if you think you’d like to come and help do a presentation with me, please contact Judy at the New England PVA office and let her know your contact info so she can pass it on to me. Have a great summer - students and everyone!