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What is it like to read Harry Potter in Braille? What does the teacher sound like if you have a hearing impairment? Why is it so hard for some children to tie their shoes?
Sometimes, walking in another child’s shoes is all it takes to help children understand differences and take a step towards empathy. That’s why the Katonah Lewisboro Special Education PTO (SEPTO) sponsors Differences Day for students in second and fifth grades each year.
This year, Differences Day took place at Increase Miller Elementary on November 2, and at Katonah Elementary on November 3, and Meadow Pond Elementary School on November 6.
Each second and fifth grade student spent a session in the school gymnasium, rotating through a series of hands-on activities designed to simulate visual, auditory, speech and motor impairments, as well as learning differences. At one station, they tried on goggles that simulate visual impairment; at another they did puzzles while wearing gloves that evoke fine motor skills challenges. They also tried to carry a lunch tray while navigating in a wheelchair.
Station activities are facilitated by parent volunteers. Students from John Jay High School’s A World of Difference club help at one school each year—this year at Meadow Pond Elementary School.
Differences Day is unique to the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. It was created in 2000 by a team of SEPTO parents with input from Katonah-Lewisboro special services staff. The workshop has been run by SEPTO each year, with additional sponsorship from the elementary school PTAs and the Office of Special Services. KLSD parent Naomi Heftler is the Differences Day Chairperson.
Students participated in several activities to simulate various learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and visual processing disorders. They also interacted with aids designed to help children with attention or sensory difficulties like a bumpy seat cushing and molding sand.
Students participated in several activities to simulate speech and communication disorders. They spoke to each other while using tongue depressors to simulate articulation difficulties or asked for an object without using any words. Children tried to communicate using a Picture Exchange Communication System, and played a game that showed them what it is like to have difficulty understanding body language and social cues.
Students learned about sign language, hearing aids (iSense and cochlear implants) and ways to protect their hearing. A parent demonstrated how a person who is hearing impaired would be woken up by a vibrating alarm clock. Students also saw how those with hearing loss would know when someone was knocking at their door with a blinking light door knocker.
Students learned about Braille, and ran their fingertips over books like Harry Potter and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in Braille, as well as a Braille bingo board!
Students tried on occluders (goggles which simulate various kinds of vision impairment), and then tried to catch brightly colored balls, write their name, and kick an audible soccer ball that has a rattle inside. They also experienced a talking calculator and a talking watch.
Students used crutches or a wheelchair and tried to carry a tray of play food, dribble a basketball, and wheel around cones.
To experience what it would be like to have fine motor impairments, students wore large bulky mittens, and attempted to accomplish everyday tasks such as tying laces, unlocking latches, playing with Legos, picking up pennies, and picking up beads with a spoon.
A World of Difference--a club at John Jay High School that promotes tolerance and respect for diversity--helped run Difference Day at Meadow Pond Elementary School this year.