In this episode:
IAP Co-host Jeremy Curry is in the principal’s office and is blaming it all on co-host and guide dog Darren. Principal of New Haven Primary School in New Haven, Indiana, Renita Peters, talks to us about Disability Awareness Month and how the school participates every year to bring awareness to its students. And, yes, she invites your very own Jeremy Curry and Darren talk to the New Haven students showing them what it is like to not have vision and how Darren does his work as a guide dog.
The Interactive Accessibility Podcast (IAP) is an entertaining approach to accessibility. We enjoy sharing our discussions on accessibility and how it relates to technology, real-life issues, information, businesses, and people with disabilities.
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Announcer: Welcome to the IAP, the "Interactive Accessibility Podcast" bringing you the people, technology, and ideas. Helping to make your world accessible to everyone.
Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP. I'm your host, Mark Miller, thanking you for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor, if you're enjoying the IAP, share it, tell someone about it. Hey, even link it to your accessible website and if you have something to say you can tweet us @ia11y.com. Jeremy, how are you doing today?
Jeremy Curry: I'm doing...I was doing awesome. I'm actually sitting in the principal's office.
Mark: I heard about that. I want to know what you did to get yourself in the principal's office on National Disability Awareness Month.
Jeremy: First of all, it wasn't me, it was Darren. He was the culprit.
Mark: You blame everything on Darren.
Mark: Darren is the most famous co-host of IAP. He's got a huge fan base, and we don't.
Jeremy: He does. If you would like a autographed photo of him just reach out to us, tweet us. I'm sure he would be happy to stamp one with his paw.
Mark: Beautiful. I want one of those.
Jeremy: I'm sitting here in the principal's office of New Haven Primary School with good friend and principal Renita Peters.
Mark: Renita, welcome to IAP.
Renita Peters: Hey, how are you doing today, Mark?
Mark: I'm doing excellent. I would like to hear from you about exactly what Jeremy did wrong to end up in your office.
Mark: Is he remorseful at all, is he...?
Renita: [laughs] Of course he is.
Mark: He is. All right, good.
Renita: No, we invited...We invited Jeremy to come and spend the afternoon with us here at New Haven Primary because...Go ahead.
Mark: I was going to say even if I begged, you wouldn't give him detention? [laughs]
Renita: I think we can arrange that.
Mark: OK, good. [laughs] Do tell us why...This is an interesting thing. You and Jeremy have a long history here. It's something that he's done for you guys year after year. Tell us exactly why he is there today.
Renita: As you guys already said, March is National Disability Awareness Month. We here at New Haven Primary celebrate that -- celebrate our differences with other students and celebrate what makes us different. We sit down as a committee, and we determine activities and resources for students to share, and to talk about disabilities.
This week, which is the second week of March, we discuss and share with students about what it's like to be blind. And people with low vision.
We had Jeremy come in and talk with my students. My students range from ages that are in the pre-K level, to second grade. He shows students how Darren works with him, and what he does with Darren, and how Jeremy functions everyday life just like we all do.
Jeremy: It's a pretty cool experience. You have, what, 400-500 kids?
Renita: Yeah, we have about 500 students here.
Jeremy: We break it up into couple different sessions. This is our third year for doing this. It's always fun to teach the kids. They have no idea. Just like a lot of the general public doesn't have any idea how do you interface with a guide dog or someone who's blind.
One of the things I'll typically do with the kids is, we'll talk about well, here's what Darren does for work. You have to kind of define well, what does it mean to work? They're used to thinking tools, like bridges, hammers and stuff. Then I'll tell them, "Hey, watch what he does when you guys are yelling at him, like dog or puppy," or something.
That's one of the things I constantly have happen. When I go out into public, like a grocery store or something, people will yell, "Dog, dog!" because they've never seen one before. They're pretty rare.
Mark: In the grocery store? [laughs] Or in general, they haven't seen a dog.
Jeremy: I teach the kids, I'm like, "Hey, scream as loud as you can and see what happens." The kids see how that affects his work, which is pretty significant when you've got 250 kids at a time yelling, "Dog!" at him. It's neat to kind of share those experiences.
Mark: Darren just sits there and looks at them like, "Yeah, I know what you're up to. I'm not biting." Get it? Biting?
Mark: I have some familiarity with young kids being that I had two of my very own at one point. Neither one is young anymore. I also have experience with the general public hanging around you, Jeremy, and just in our job. It is true, it's really amazing.
Sometimes, it's used to be around people with varying disabilities as I am. Sometimes, I do silly things. Sometimes, I hear things that I sort of deem as silly as in terms of questions and stuff.
They're not silly. It's just people aren't used to it. I've got to imagine that this group of little rugrats that you got going on over there had some really interesting things to say.
Jeremy: Oh yeah, it's...
Mark: Yeah, tell me some of the stories.
Jeremy: One of my favorite ones is I always get asked how I drive.
Jeremy: I've got a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor, as you know. I'll always say, "Well, I taught Darren to bark once for green and twice for red."
Jeremy: It didn't happen this year, but last year one of Renita's students...
Jeremy: ...I said that very dry, sarcastic and they didn't pick up on the sarcasm. This kid, just as serious as a heart attack, he goes, "What about yellow?"
Mark: That's what I love about kids is that it's so straightforward. Their mind is just clicking so straightforward and you get whatever.
Jeremy: [laughs] That's always cool. You've got a way, Renita, that, like Mark said, the general population just doesn't have any idea about disabilities. You've got a way that the kids can actually ask questions, right?
Renita: Yes, we do. Out in our main hallway area, we have a table set up with a box. On the box is a face of a person and we call her Aunt Idealla. A student can take a piece of paper, any time this month, and write down a question that they have about a disability.
They can put their question in that box. The staff here reads through those questions and we write answers on the back from Aunt Idealla. We'll get questions that sometimes students don't want to necessarily ask in front of other people because they're scared or they're timid, but they really do want to know.
We've had questions, "Why do blind people wear sunglasses?" "Why does my friend in that other classroom act that way?" "Why does the student walk like that?" They are very honest and innocent. We need to share with them why so that they have a better understanding.
Mark: I think it's fantastic that you get a genuine participation in that, you know what I mean?
Renita: We do. It is very innocent and very sweet. They really do have lots of great ideas and they really do want to know why. It helps that curiosity and it helps feed that information and that thirst for knowledge that they have.
Maybe not about reading and not about math or science, but something about that's important to them...
Renita: ...and important to real life.
Mark: Yeah. It's the solution, maybe a little bit, to the staring in the mall. I always taught my kids don't stare at the guy in the wheelchair. If you are wondering what's up, I'll walk you over there and we can ask him if he's willing to talk to us a little bit or something like that.
That's what you've offered them, an opportunity to satisfy that curiosity in a really positive way. You don't have access to that box right now, do you?
Renita: I don't have access to that box right now, but students have had some amazing questions. What's also great about our school is that we actually have a number of students that are hard of hearing or deaf or have cochlear implants.
Mark: Oh! Yeah.
Renita: So they are very familiar with sign language interpreters. They are very familiar with communicating simple signs. Every day this month, during the month of March, my special team of teachers sends out an email to every staff member sharing a sign for the day. We practice that sign for the day.
Jeremy: Oh, nice.
Renita: It's been "Friend," "Play," "Food," normal nouns that we use in everyday life that we can now communicate with our friends that can't hear.
Jeremy: That's cool.
Mark: What's the sign for today?
Renita: The sign for today is "Play."
Mark: Is play? I know that one.
Renita: It's "Play."
Mark: I'm doing it right now.
Jeremy: Perfect for a Friday.
Renita: Yes. [laughs] We also share pictures of people with a disability doing a job, doing a function or at play so that students can understand that just because someone has a disability, doesn't mean that they can't do the same things that we do.
As a matter of fact, today one of the students connected because today's picture that we shared out was of a person that was using a miniature horse as their seeing eyes. Instead of using a seeing eye dog, they were using a horse, a miniature horse.
The student brought that up today as Jeremy was presenting.
Jeremy: That's where they got that connection from. That's very cool that they're connecting all those pieces.
Jeremy: Speaking of connecting, you even have a puzzle, right, that they put together?
Renita: Yes, we do a display every year when National Disability Awareness Month comes around. This year's display was puzzle pieces. Every classroom got a big cardboard puzzle piece. They decorated it and all signed it, pledging that they would see those with disabilities as equals and not any different.
Every student signed that and they put all the puzzle pieces together. It's displayed in our main hallway right now for this month.
Mark: That's cool.
Jeremy: I think that's so important for kids to be able to connect that just because there's a disability, doesn't mean that they're less limited in things they can do.
I know a lot of my friends, when I started losing my sight, even just the general public, says, "Oh, you're blind. You're just going to sit home and do nothing."
Mark: You're going to be homebound, yeah.
Jeremy: It's just far from the truth of many people with disabilities. That's really cool, that you teach them that at this early age. It's pretty hard.
Renita: We also have an intense program in our building that has students that are in wheelchairs, students that have other physical disabilities. Those students go into classrooms, regular general education classrooms, all the time.
Our exposure out here to students with disabilities and people that may be considered that are different, is almost commonplace here. It's not something that's unusual and strange. We don't have anybody here this year that is low-vision or blind, so having Jeremy come in is really powerful.
Mark: Sure. Hey, Jeremy, in the discussions, do you know if they talk specifically about accessibility or accommodations?
Jeremy: I don't know. Is that something that they talk about, like maybe Braille, or different accommodations, Renita?
Renita: We do. We talk about how people can play sports. Usually what's all about kids is play, so how do they play? That's the biggest question. How does someone who can't hear me play? We share with them the accommodations that people that are deaf or physically-impaired.
How they can also play and do activities just like we do. That's our main general way that we express those things.
Mark: That's cool. I can almost see a project in which the kids creatively come up with different ways to accommodate for different disabilities and things that they would do every day in school, or to create a project around it. Or something like that.
To me, it's just fascinating, the possibilities that exist when you're dealing with people that young. That have that innocence and that are willing to spend some of their time, really, thinking about it, and working through something.
We get to be adults and we can conceptualize all this stuff, but really, we've got to go to work and we've got to do what we've got to do. You've got an opportunity with these kids to really get them involved in thinking and doing projects, and all that.
It's great that you guys are taking out the time, as a school, to do that.
Renita: We do. It's really important. I know that our academics and our curriculum are extremely important. These are things and issues that our real kids face. They see someone with a leader dog in a building, and now they know how to treat that person.
They can tell their younger brother and sister, and even their parents, how to treat that person. Someone who is hard of hearing or has a cochlear implant. It doesn't weird them out. It's not strange. It's common. It's just that person needs that to hear. The person needs that to be able to communicate.
Jeremy: I can tell sometimes when I'm in this area, or when I've done other presentations around here. I'll hear kids in the store today with their parents, something like, "Hey, you're not supposed to talk to the dog," or something like that. They'll teach the adults, because the adults don't even know.
Mark: I was going to ask you how the parental feedback is. Do you hear from the parents much on their thoughts on the program, or do they relate stories about their kids to you?
Renita: We do. We do get a lot of stories. We post pictures on our Facebook page of the weekly events. We have a deaf week and a physically-impaired week, along with the blind week.
The students that are participating in those activities in art, music and PE, we share those pictures, and those students go home and have conversations, because the parents now have a prompt. "Oh, I see in art this week you guys wore patches over your eyes and you tried to create something that way. How did that work out?"
We use our social media as a way to help parents start those conversations, and for kids to have an outlet to say, "Oh yeah, we did that today! This is what we did." They have those great conversations. We do get a lot of feedback that way through our Facebook page.
Jeremy: If somebody wanted to go and check out your Facebook page, if they're listening to this podcast and want to see some of that, do you know what the address is where they go to?
Renita: Sure. They would just log into their normal Facebook account. In their search bar, just search, New Haven Primary School. We will pop up. We're the bulldogs. If you see a bulldog as the picture, that's us.
Mark: Nice. Thank you very much for sharing that. Jeremy, thank you for doing that. That's great.
Jeremy: I would shout out to Renita. She always does a fantastic job with this. I'm really grateful that she invites me in and allows me to take up your valuable time to talk about this stuff.
Renita: We love having him here. The kids celebrate it every time. They get so excited knowing when Mr. Curry is coming.
Mark: How about Darren, how does he feel about all this?
Jeremy: I think he's already asleep again.
Renita: I think so.
Mark: He's asleep. He's like, "Finally, those kids stopped yelling my name. I can sleep."
Mark: All right. Thanks so much. We really appreciate you being on here. Keep up the good work. I think that it's just fantastic that kids are getting exposed, and that disabilities are being normalized for them at an early age.
As somebody who works around people with disabilities all the time, you really could just move forward and work, and have friends and relationships and co-workers, and all that, when you're not thinking about the fact that they may do things a little bit differently than you do.
I think it's great. It's really good.
Renita: Thank you very much. I appreciate you letting us share our story out here.
Mark: You bet. Remind everybody, the reason why we're talking about this today is because it is National Disability Awareness Month. Renita shared a hashtag with me. I'm going to try this out, so back me up here.
Mark: It is the word "Beautiful" misspelled. It is hashtag b-e-, and those are little b's and e's, little b, little e, capital Y-O-U, and then lower case, t-i-f-u-l. How did I do?
Renita: Exactly right. Good job, Mark. [laughs]
Mark: [laughs] I cheated, because I read it off a piece of paper. I knew you were doing it earlier off the top of your head.
Renita: [laughs] Great, the hashtag, "Beautiful", or "be-YOU-tiful." Be you.
Mark: "be-YOU-tiful." Excellent.
Renita: There you go.
Mark: If you have anything to tweet about National Disability Awareness Month, that's it. If you want to tweet anything to us, it is @ia11y.com. Go out there and participate in National Disability Awareness Month.
Do your part in helping people be aware of people with disabilities, and how they can treat them. I say that if you see someone with a disability and you're curious about how they're operating in the world, don't stare at them from across the room.
Walk up and shake their hand. Say, "Hey. I've got a couple questions. Do you have a few minutes?"
Jeremy: If you got the flu, don't shake my hand.
Mark: Don't touch Darren.
Jeremy: Don't touch Darren.
Renita: [laughs] "Don't touch Darren."
Mark: Leave the dog alone. [laughs] All right, great. Thank you. This is Mark, thanking Renita and Jeremy, and reminding all of you out there to keep it accessible.
Announcer: The IAP, Interactive Accessibility Podcast is brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters blog at interactiveaccessibility.com/blog.