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Program shows kids the challenges of disabilities

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Touch of Understanding lets students experience first-hand what it’s like to be disabled From visible disabilities — such as a prosthetic limb — to less visible ones (like autism), A Touch of Understanding volunteers visited Breen Elementary School on Friday to share the agency’s message of education and tolerance. A Touch of Understanding, based in Granite Bay, is a non-profit organization that strives to give schoolchildren first-hand experience in the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. During last week’s presentation, students were encouraged to maneuver a wheelchair, write in Braille, use a white cane to navigate the campus as a “blind” individual and experience the sensory perception of individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or autism. “It’s a disability awareness program for schoolchildren, but it serves as a character education and anti-bullying program as well,” says Leslie DeDora, ATOU executive director. “It helps the students through activities and discussion and interaction with people with disabilities to understand what it would be like to have a disability. And the fact that someone with a disability is just like anyone else. They just use different tools to accomplish their goals.” Chuck Thibideau, principal at Breen Elementary, learned about ATOU from a student’s parents and has been very satisfied with the presentations ever since. “The presentations today were outstanding,” he said. “The interactive activities gave students an opportunity to briefly experience the challenges presented by cognitive and physical disabilities. We are very grateful to the presenters who told us about their disabilities and how they are able to live their lives to the fullest.” Founded by DeDora in 1992, (and established it as a non-profit in 1996), nearly 50,000 children have gone through the program since its inception. ~ Anne Stokes