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MERRILLVILLE | More than 1,000 fifth- and sixth-graders at Merrillville Intermediate School participated in a lunch hour Disabilities Awareness Month program last month.

Stations were set up for students to simulate  disabilities and perform tasks. Students were also given an informational handout with a short quiz.

To simulate vision impairment, students wrote sentences while watching their hand in a mirror to give them the experience of dyslexia - where your eyes are fine but your brain scrambles what you see.

Some students tried tricks like writing quickly or looking at something else in the mirror. This was related to the way that people with disabilities are often able to find ways to succeed even with a disability.

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Students tried to pick up pieces of rice one at a time while wearing a sock on their hand to simulate fine motor impairment. This showed how a person who has trouble with using their hands may struggle with “simple” tasks like getting dressed and writing.

Students were told to say the color of words written on a page, not read the words themselves. They were shown the word "green" in the color orange, for instance, and found the task difficult. It was explained that a learning disability works along those lines. Strategies such as focus, practice, and patience were discussed as strategies.

Students were asked to take a spelling test while lights flickered, radio static played, and volunteers made loud noises. Unable to hear the words or focus on the task, it was explained that people with autism or sensory disorders may experience sound and light distractions as more severe than most people. In frustrating situations, the brain does not receive the necessary oxygen to make good choices. Calming breathing was demonstrated and attempted by all.

Special education teachers Jenna Campos, Jaleesa Cook, Megan Hulse, Tim Malott, Mikole Mayo and  Katie Zahora coordinated the program, while Chris Karson, who uses a wheelchair, helped out, and many students asked him questions about his day-to-day life.

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