Abilities of all kinds were celebrated at Loyola School as part of Ability Awareness Week, Nov. 18-22.
Throughout the week, students participated in various activities simulating a range of learning and physical challenges -- from mobility impairments, blindness and dyslexia to fine motor challenges.
Parents and community members volunteered their time to manage various activities.
Many parent volunteers are also members of the Community Advisory Committee for the Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA 1, which includes the Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Mountain View-Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos High school districts.
The volunteer committee, formed in 1994, works on a wide range of issues related to special education in schools, including a handbook of guidelines for parents of special needs children in public schools.
Many of those guidelines were shared with the students. "We are teaching the students things like wheelchair etiquette," said Patty Hurley, a volunteer and parent of a special needs student. "For example, asking permission before touching someone's wheelchair, since it is considered as part of their personal space; or having eye contact and speaking directly to the person in the wheelchair."
In an activity meant to simulate a fine motor disability, students put socks on their hands while trying to button up a dress shirt in five minutes.
Students were given a "homework" assignment of not speaking for two hours one evening, forcing them to find other ways to communicate.
In other activities, students attempted to write their names upside down and backward, so that it would look correct in a mirror, to simulate dyslexia; or put on blindfolds and have a classmate lead them around campus to simulate being sight-impaired.
Sunnyvale resident Gail Bowen and her 5-year-old seeing eye dog Cody were also on hand to talk with students.
"The kids are learning how to tell if a guide dog is working or not and how to act around a dog," Bowen said. "Seeing the dogs really helps with giving more acceptance to people like myself out in public."
Acceptance is one of the main themes of the week. It was highlighted with brightly colored posters hung around campus with slogans such as, "It's OK to walk differently," "It's OK to be from a different place" and "Teasing is bullying using words."
Students in the special day classes at Loyola, who have many of the physical or learning challenges highlighted during the week, were in turn given tools to deal with bullying.
"We did some role playing on how to deal with teasing, and it was really successful," Hurley said. "The special day classes did every simulation the other students did, with this added element. The kids need these tools."
Hurley asked students to pretend what it would be like not to be in their bodies, but in the body of someone who might need assistance.
After attempting to navigate Loyola's Multipurpose Room using a walker, cane and wheelchair, fourth-grader Elizabeth Khouri said she was surprised at how hard it was.
"I always wanted to try out a wheelchair. It seemed so easy, but actually it's harder," Khouri said. "I learned that you can't see all disabilities and that I am luckier than a lot of people. I have all of my limbs and can see and smell, not like some other people."
Susan Sherwood, a fourth-grade teacher, said her students can put what they learned during the week to use in the classroom.
"I have a special needs student that comes to my class once a week," Sherwood said. "They are getting to know him as a person and they are less likely to tease him on the playground. We are all educating each other."
For more information about hosting an Ability Awareness Week or the SELPA 1 CAC, call Patty Hurley at 949-1926.