At the beginning of this school year, I had a lot of students ask me questions that would seem to have obvious answers.
“Ms. Liles…can you tie your shoes?”
“How do you play basketball?”
“Can you type on a computer?”
These short interrogations inspired me to create a new enrichment activity during our after school program at the school I serve.
You see, I was born a left arm amputee, which means my left arm ends at my elbow. I have lived my entire life with only the use of my right hand, but I’ve never really thought of myself as different. Students’ questions about how I perform basic, daily tasks highlighted the contrast between my self-identity and their perception of me. They viewed me as disabled, a word I’ve always resented because of its association in some minds with helplessness and limitation.
Growing up, my parents would tell me that I could do anything I wanted to do, and they were right. I could do anything, but I just had to figure out my own way to do it. Through the years I embraced challenges and came to relish in my own adaptation. I played soccer and basketball, excelled in school and took piano lessons.
In my Abilities enrichment I wanted to challenge the idea that people with disabilities are weak, powerless victims who should be pitied. I wanted students to learn the causes of various disabilities and see that people with these conditions could be independent and successful. I wanted them to understand there is no right or “normal” way to do things.
I found the best way to teach students was to engage them in hands-on activities. Each week, students would walk a mile in a disabled person’s shoes. Sometimes those shoes took the form of a wheelchair, a blindfold or an earplug. In one lesson, students even wrapped each other in paper to experience paralysis and total loss of limb control.
Seeing students find new ways to communicate or move around was amazing. At times they were frustrated, but in the end they worked together to figure things out. It was exciting to see students so eager to view the world from a different perspective.
In the end I know my Abilities students had fun and gained insight. It was a privilege for me to share in that experience with them.
Amanda Liles, Corps Member CYSJ