College Admissions Essay: My Contribution to Disability Awareness


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My Contribution to Disability Awareness

 

It's 8 o'clock in the morning and the corridors of Mill Road Elementary are busier than Grand Central Station. The only difference is that Mill Road students are about a foot shorter and ten times more energetic than your average Grand Central Station commuter. In comparison with the dorm room I have just left, these walls are papered with hundreds of drawings and paintings. The hallways could compete with any modern gallery in terms of sheer bulk and some critics might argue for their content as well. However, I did not wake up at 7 o'clock to view the Mill Road Elementary prized art collection. Instead, I am there to present the 3-step Disabilities Awareness program to several classes of supercharged fifth graders.

 

Standing in front of 30 or so fifth graders is a lonely position. I feel the burden of all teachers and start my presentation. It is a difficult curriculum to teach to fifth graders because of the many contradictions and situational circumstances. These fifth graders are sharp and ask questions whose answers could easily fill the rest of the year's class time. It is for this same reason that the presentation is such an enjoyable program. A ten-question quiz, designed to "pop" some of the myths about disabilities, is given to the students. The class discusses ideas about independence, differentiating between disabilities and emphasizing that the person comes before the disability. The quiz is an icebreaker that encourages the students to ask questions that pertain to the whole disabilities spectrum.

 

Once the students begin to feel comfortable, I am flooded with questions. Students are able to expand their knowledge on a variety of disability-related issues. The real challenge is to help them change their perception of people with disabilities. Students have to be convinced that a disability is a limitation and every human has his or her own limitations. A disability is not a sickness someone can catch like a cold. When the students begin to see that we are all equal, then the Disabilities Awareness program has really done its job. The students are stubborn at first to new ideas but, after challenging them, they begin to see the truth behind these ideas and start accepting them.

 

The second and third presentations are follow-up visits that seek to reinforce the same ideas presented in the first session using different activities.

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Students are engaged in the myth-popping process by participating in disability-simulation activities and in an arts and crafts project. The simulation activity gives the students a small taste of how frustrating certain disabilities can be. The exercises focus on mental disabilities such as dyslexia and ADD. After fifteen minutes, students have had enough and begin to understand the difficulties that people with these disabilities face.

 

The arts and craft project serves as a summary of what the students have learned from the previous two sessions and is not as strenuous. The project allows the fifth-graders to get creative and to show what they have learned from the program. The third session is the most enjoyable part of the whole process for me, because I get to see how their understanding of disabilities awareness has grown. The program helps clear up a lot of confusion among the kids about disabilities, and the art project lets them document their better understanding.

 

With the presentations finished, I hope that the students have learned as much from me as I have from them. I continue to present the Disabilities Awareness program as a part of fulfilling my Trustee Leadership Scholarship requirements, which pushes students to reach out to the surrounding communities near Bard College. Last year, I extended the relationship that I had as editor of the Newsletter by starting to teach the curriculum. It was the type of hands-on experience that makes getting up early in the morning worthwhile.


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