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Project Closes Disability Gap
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Groups of Escalon High students got an up close and personal look at what it's like to be disabled, taking part in Project HOWDEE at the school during the past week.

Hosted by the Friends Helping Friends organization in cooperation with the Special Day Class, Project HOWDEE - Helping Others With Disabilities Every day in Every way - was designed to give students a chance to experience living with a disability. The goal was to increase their awareness of how difficult it is to function 'normally' in a high school setting when you face a different set of challenges.

From being 'blinded' and having to use a cane to tap their way through an obstacle course to trying to read backwards, the students were put through the paces.

"It's very difficult and aggravating," senior Paul Brown said of trying to grasp small objects like buttons and paper clips while wearing gloves, simulating difficulties with small motor skills.

Cara Sharp was using a mirror, trying to draw lines inside a star while looking at the image backwards.

"It was really difficult," she said, looking at the finished product. "I did all right, I guess, but I really now appreciate reading the right way."

Other students listened to words, muffled intentionally, and heard them at three separate levels, as if they had varying degrees of hearing loss. "Young" sounded like "done" and "sit" was actually "fish," showing how far off some of the words were.

Special Day Class teacher Tim Reed told the students to take what they learned in that brief period to heart, realizing that many of their peers have to deal with those disabilities every day and can't just go 'back to normal' after touring the program.

"In a heartbeat, things can change, he said. "A car accident, a ski injury ... you could have some of these same difficulties. It's a person first, before their disability."

Many students agreed that having insight into the difficulties was valuable, and hopefully will make for a more cohesive campus, with the Special Day Class students not seen as 'disabled' but 'inconvenienced' by their challenges.

More than two dozen Friends Helping Friends club members manned the various stations.

"The students are receiving it very well," noted Reed. "I find it interesting that some of the students are finding they don't want to attempt some of these tasks."

Planned to dovetail off Disability Awareness Month, Reed said he's glad that they had the chance to offer the project.

Club president Katie San Julian was also pleased with the response.

"Basically it's so we encourage kids to not judge those in Mr. Reed's class, those that have special needs," she said. "We need to stand up for them. Maybe the name calling will stop, and people will not make fun of them. They should be treated equally ... that's what we're hoping, that's our goal."