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Lasante and Izzie at a local pumpkin patch.

Disability Inspires Students


Lasante and Izzie at a local pumpkin patch.
Lasante and Izzie at a local pumpkin patch. 

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he alarm clock buzzes at 5:15, and English teacher Caryn Lasante rolls up out of bed and gets ready to take on the day. She gets up and gets herself ready, then heads down to the kitchen to pack lunches and make breakfast. After an hour, she wakes up her daughter Izzie, a fourth grade student. She helps her get dressed and makes her take her medicine.  Lasante then rushes out the door and Izzie gets put on the bus to head over to the Morrison Center in Scarborough, a school for special needs children, while she rushes to school to start teaching classes. This is a typical morning for Lasante and her daughter, Izzie, who has special needs.

According to 2014 census data currently about 3.1% of Maine residents are deaf. That’s about 25,000 of the 830,000 people in the state.  American Foundation of the Blind states that there are also approximately 32,000 people in Maine who suffer with vision impairment.

This fall, Lasante had her senior students do a disability awareness project in her Sports Literature class inspired by the memoir, Eleven Seconds, by Travis Roy. The book is about Roy, a quadriplegic living in Boston who was brutally injured in the first eleven seconds of his first college hockey game at Boston University and broke his neck. For the assignment, students had to take on what seemed like an impossible task of having a disability for the day.

Lasante’s inspiration for this project was quite simple, “The project idea came to me a few years ago when I took on a disability for a day. My daughter has a vision impairment and her orientation and mobility instructor took me out blindfolded using a cane through the community for a few hours one day and it was probably one of the most powerful experiences that I’ve ever had.”

Walking away from that experience Lasante knew that this was definitely something she wanted to share with other people, so she assigned this project to her students at school. Lasante said the exercise her daughter’s instructor did with her helped her become more aware and to have more patience with her daughter when they were out traveling. “I thought it would be a great experience to bring that to my classroom.”

Students are also given the option to interview individuals with a disability if they prefer, but most students decided to experience a disability first hand. Senior Sheldon Parent was one of the students in Lasante’s class who decided to take on a hearing disability for the day. Going into the school day, he did not think much of it, “I thought it would be easy to just wear headphones and not have to listen to any of my teachers,” he said. As the day went on he realized that the project was much harder than he thought. Walking into jazz band, Parent felt stressed out and embarrassed, his peers were staring at him with judgment filled faces. “The only sense of sound I had was feeling, I could feel the music through the floor, Parent says.  

When the day was over and Parent’s ears were turned on again, he said,“ I think the biggest thing I took away was to not be so quick to judge or be rude to somebody. Maybe you think that they are ignoring you and you get annoyed, but really they may have no idea you are talking. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like living with this type of disability, and I have gained a great sense of respect for all people who do.”

For most, coping with a disability is not something you can experience for a day and then turn off, it demands daily focus and commitment to being as positive as possible despite obstacles. Lasante knows this reality first hand. As the end of each school day approaches, Lasante packs up her stuff and heads out of school early to pick up Izzie off the bus and they repeat the routine from the morning all over again. They play, do chores, and have a dance party together every afternoon. They fight about dinner and when night approaches they lay together until Izzie falls asleep. For most people, taking care of a child with disabilities is a near impossible task that greatly affects a family. Lasante has chosen to see it as a blessing and a reason to be even more appreciative of everything she has.

The project is just one way she shares this wisdom with her students. “I think this is really important and I want to raise awareness, teach empathy, and although it’s just a one day school day snapshot it certainly is not in any means a way for them to understand how impacting living with a disability can be. They certainly walk away with a much better understanding and compassion for others which is my hope.”

Walking away from this assignment, students were not only impacted by the disabilities, but were inspired by Lasante and her story. Senior, Tj Pike said, “The disability project made me realize how lucky as well as blessed I am to be healthy and to live the life I do. Being blind for the day was quite a challenge and I couldn’t imagine living like that every day.’’

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