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SOUTH BEACH

Exceptional Library Fills 23-Year Void on Campus

April 15, 1998|SUSAN DEEMER

For 23 years, youngsters attending Richard Henry Dana Exceptional Needs Facility borrowed books from a neighboring school or rolled their wheelchairs downhill to a nearby public library.

"We would walk down La Cresta Drive, cut through a neighborhood and cross Niguel Road to the Dana Niguel Library," said Judy Shades, principal of the 200-student campus. "Then we would send a bus down to pick them up because coming up the hill pushing wheelchairs and walking up with little legs is difficult."

But all that changed last week when the campus opened its first library, a comfortable reading area with colorful beanbag chairs and miniature furniture.

Bookcases are stocked with about 1,000 volumes, many that include characters who mirror the physical and developmental disabilities of the students.

Some books are fuzzy and have buttons designed for blind children. There are interactive stories on CD-ROM, and videocassettes for group lessons. Children can flip through books with titles such as "Move Over, Wheelchairs Coming Through" and "The Special Raccoon." Picture books include characters with Down syndrome.

"About 40% of our children are 5 years and under with developmental disabilities so a regular school library didn't fit our needs," Shades said.

The school used a $10,000 grant from the Public School Library Protection Fund to buy books, computer software and other materials for the library, Shades said. About $1,800 came from the school's budget.

Donations also helped. Members of the San Juan Capistrano Rotary Club built bookcases; the El Camino Real Junior Women's Club donated furniture; and one family contributed a computer.

"Obviously this is just a beginning for us," Shades said. "We want to continue to add on."

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