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MISSION VIEJO : Gaining Respect for the Disabled

October 18, 1994|LYNN FRANEY

When Bathgate Elementary School second-grader Shaun Poe bounced a big red rubber ball toward his classmates Monday afternoon, they had trouble catching it and throwing it back.

Emergency medical technicians had suited Poe's classmates with temporary arm or leg splints, bound their fingers together or outfitted them with walkers and wheelchairs.

The purpose was to give them an idea of what life is like for people with physical disabilities.

"It's hard to move," complained Donald Porter, 7, as he struggled to get a wheelchair rolling. Donald said the experience taught him that while it is harder to get around because of a disability, children with disabilities are the same as children without them.

That's the attitude that Shaun's mother, Cyrene, hoped the children would develop in the hourlong Physically Challenged Awareness Program session that she created. She came up with the idea when several students picked on and laughed at Shaun, who has cerebral palsy.

"We wanted to show the kids that even if a kid has a handicap, he is still fun," said Poe, a respiratory therapist with MedTrans, an ambulance services company that provided the medical technicians. "Disabled kids still eat ice cream and want friends."

MedTrans spokeswoman Tara Regan said Poe hopes to expand the program to other elementary schools. The session also includes a discussion of famous people who have become successful despite physical disabilities.

"We know an hour or two isn't going to make the kids completely empathetic," Regan said. "But we just want to make them to stop and think when they see a disabled person that that person really isn't all that different."

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