Disabled guests speak before Riverside class Program is model for other schools

April 04, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

Fifteen-year-old Tina Fifer stood at the front of a classroom at Riverside Elementary School, smiling and laughing with other students and looking every bit the typical teen in her jeans, hoop earrings and blue denim blouse.

She seems like any other teen-ager. But she's deaf, and the students with whom she was visiting wanted to know all about her.

"Has anybody ever made fun of you?" a third-grader asked.

"A lot of people have and I don't like it," said the sophomore at Bel Air's C. Milton Wright High School. "I'm the same as you are. I just cannot hear."

Tina was one of the guest speakers Friday at the school's Disability Awareness Day, when students had a chance to get to know her and other disabled visitors who talked about their physical challenges and how they have overcome them.

Tina showed off TDD, a device which enables her to use the telephone -- by typing. The children were especially attentive as they learned to communicate some very popular words -- like McDonald's and french fries -- using sign language.

"I liked her because she was nice and she told us a lot of neat stuff," said third-grader Tim Adams. "She really respects people the way they are."

"Just because she can't hear it doesn't mean she has to be left out of everything," added his classmate, Barry Lauder. "If disabled people really want to do something they still can."

This was the school's fourth Disability Awareness Day and the program has been a model for other schools, according to Doris Finney, an instructional assistant at Riverside. "We want the children to grow with this," Mrs. Finney said. "We want them to know that people with disabilities are the same as them and have the same feelings."

It was a full day of activities for the school's 720 students as they went from room to room, visiting with people who told them about learning disabilities, post-polio syndrome, birth defects, diabetes, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Sammy Ross, a 70-year-old musician and actor who is a dwarf, told the children: "I've gone through [most of] my life and I've been very happy. You have to like yourself or nobody else will."

And Paige Dixon, a 20-year-old Harford Community College freshman, told the children about her athletic accomplishments and volunteer work so they would understand that a learning disability like hers -- dyslexia -- can be overcome.

All the hard work has paid off and now I'm standing here in the front of this classroom talking about it," Miss Dixon said.

Patrick McCurdy hopes that their visit with him will help the children to become more aware of accessibility issues. A counselor for the Maryland Center for Independent Living, he has been a quadriplegic since a body surfing accident.

"I think the children became more at ease with me," said Mr. McCurdy. "Instead of staring it's better to ask a question."

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