West Side Disability Awareness Day

“It’s hard reading words that are not clearly written and it’s a struggle because you would have to move your head places to be able to see.”

“It was frustrating because I could barely read the blurry words and I didn’t know how to pronounce something.”

“It was hard. I didn’t understand what my partner was saying.”

These are reflections shared by students at West Side Middle School, who recently participated in their first Disability Awareness Day. With eight stations set up around the media center, students were given the opportunity to experience life with a disability. Stations included vision impairment, hearing impairment, learning disabilities, physical disability, dyslexia, and autism.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but I made a lot of mistakes. Dyslexia is much more than just seeing a w instead of an m.”

“It was difficult to understand the words, and it made my head hurt.”


The program was put together by Matt Howe, Lindsey Cox, and Lindsey Walters, who worked together with the special education department to brainstorm ideas and facilitate the activities in the media center.

“The idea came from one of our ESL paraprofessionals, who has visual and auditory disabilities,” said Matt Howe, media specialist at West Side. “She first thought of conducting a similar activity with the staff members, but after talking to the special education department, they thought it would be well suited for the students. The special education department brought it to us and requested that we turn their ideas into an activity that had students go through different stations to experience a variety of disabilities. We gladly accepted because it seemed like a worthwhile project.”

The impact of the activities is something that left an impression on the students. Howe says, “we heard the students discussing it, especially as they did the last step where they reflected on the activity at each station. We heard from teachers who discussed the activities with students informally when they returned to class and they felt that the students really benefited from the activity.”

The team hopes to bring the awareness program back every year, and have offered to help other schools design similar programs. Not only did the students learn from the experience, but the West Side staff did, as well.  “We have some ideas about how we could make the stations more realistic for those trying to experience something from the point of view of someone with a disability,” says Howe. “We also thought it would be beneficial to bring in some guests who have disabilities and are successful in their chosen field.”