Awareness Raising Activity at Schools

Members of our Association regularly visit schools to talk to non-disabled children and young people about how we manage to live with our difficulties, in frame of master’s lessons, or summer camps. Such talks are to enhance mutual tolerance, respect and openness, without that integration never can be accomplished. We have found the young to be the most receptive: once they have been given the reasons for our differences they turn out to be most understanding. It is important for them to see us as persons rather than to look away when we meet. These encounters are usually very personal and emotional. The results are always very positive.

We believe that our activity is part of the education, as these children are going to be able to solve conflicts emerging from differences later as adults.

– One member of our team contacts the headmaster of the school by phoning, or writing a letter. In all schools they accept us with pleasure. We are often take the form of master’s lessons in two or three classes one after another. Generally, teachers also take part in these lessons, and admit that they did not have any ideas about our lives and they are surprised by our activity and our positive attitude towards life.
– We tell them about what kind of accidents may bolt a person to a wheelchair for life (falling down a tree, diving in undeep water, road accidents, etc.). We tell them about our own respective accidents, and this makes them see their responsibilities towards themselves and towards the others.
– We tell them about how we live, what we do for a living, and about our own families, about the difficulties we have when trying to study, to hold a job, to go out, to do sports, pairing, running household, having children, etc. We tell them in particular about the difficulties of contacts between people with and without disability.
– Part of our programme is a situation game: we ask them to imagine they are sitting in a wheelchair and then to try to perform their daily routines. We promptly get dismayed reactions like “Oh, I can’t get through our bathroom door! I can’t reach the upper part of the kitchen cupboard! I can’t reach the switch, the door knob, the window handle! If we have a lift, it is much too small for a wheelchair to get in! But then how to get to the street?!” The curbs on the streets are much too high, and the stairs in public buildings, shops, banks, cinemas, even at the GP’s surgeries as well as the means of transportation are obstacles unable to overcome.
– Then we ask them, what would hurt them the most, sitting in wheelchair. The answer is unambiguous: “when we would not be taken as equal with others”, or “if my able-bodied brother would be loved more them me”.
– After that the youngsters have the opportunity to sit in a wheelchair of ours and we explain how to help over thresholds or one stair carefully, while we try to express that we have a better feeling, when somebody offers his/her help, rather than we have to ask for it.
– At the end they usually ask some questions (always very timidly) about how we feel when we talk about ourselves, and whether we ever could be happy. We are very pleased at these questions, because then we can testify our belief, namely, that happiness does not depend on two legs or four wheels. Happiness has its germs in everybody’s own heart.

It is very important for all ofthem to understand that life is worth living even in a wheelchair. People may have goals, joy and fulfillment even if some accident or illness has impaired their physical abilities. We visit more than forty schools and talk to four thousand young people each year.