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Special School District of St. Louis County

Students Learn About Disability
History and Ability Awareness

Throughout St. Louis County, SSD staff and partner districts continuously educate students about abilities and disabilities awareness and education. Many use the month of October – which is designated by the Missouri legislature as Disability History and Awareness Month – to have speakers come to their schools, participate in activities, or have events to educate students.

Diane Wieland, a public speaker on behalf of Paraquad, has given many disability awareness presentations over the years at SSD partner schools. Paraquad is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower people with disabilities to increase their independence through choice and community.  

“When I put on a presentation at a school, camp or business, I introduce myself and share some history about the disability movement and Paraquad,” says Wielend. “I then ask the participants if they know anyone with a disability? What are the various types of disabilities? And do they know how many people have disabilities?”

By asking these questions, Wieland gets the conversation going. She shares her story about having cerebral palsy and growing up with her disability and the social changes that occurred at that time. 

“The disability movement brought about awareness and, as a result, laws such as Section 504, IDEA, Fair Housing Act and the ADA were passed to protect our rights as people with disabilities,” says Wieland. “I discuss the importance of inclusion, since I was not included in school or in my community until I attended college.”

Throughout her presentations, Wieland stresses that cerebral palsy is a part of her, but it does not define who she is as a person.

“We then discuss that everyone is different, and people with disabilities do things in different ways,” she says. “One example is that I love to ride a bike, but I am unable to ride a two-wheel bike due to my balance. The solution:  I have a tandem bike that my husband and I can ride together.”

Wieland emphasizes that people with disabilities are just like everyone else regardless of their abilities.

“I also stress that people with disabilities want the same rights and opportunities as everyone else,” she says. “And I encourage everyone to look beyond the disability and see the individual as a person. 

At Barretts Elementary in the Parkway School District, the staff and administration engage and teach students with an Abilities Awareness Day program.

Kelly Crupper, counselor at Barretts, speaks with students beforehand about empathy and respect for others. On Abilities Awareness Day, students hear from speakers on a variety of disability-related topics.

“We have speakers on autism, hearing impairment and dog therapy,” says Crupper. “And we have a great guy who brings in wheelchairs and activities to show how occupational therapy and physical therapy is done. We make it different each year. We usually have a couple of grade levels together for some of the speakers. Every grade has a speaker and activity, but the main focus is an all-day program for third grade.”

Crupper involves students in the process by having them volunteer to help with the speakers and put up posters. 

Also at Barretts, occupational therapist Dr. Mary Hackworth holds a pretzel sale on Abilities Awareness Day to raise money to buy sensory tools for the school. 

At Sperreng Middle School in the Lindbergh School District, counselors, parents and volunteers sponsor a disability awareness program that features speakers and workshops.

Successful workshops at Sperreng have included an SSD teacher-run workshop about right brain/left brain and how it affects a person’s learning – especially if they have a learning disability, according to SSD teacher Anita Baranski.

“We’ve also had former students do presentations at our school and that is very cool for the students to see,” Baranski says.

For more information about Missouri Disability History and Awareness Month, click here.

disability awareness image collage

Get More Information

SSD Family & Community
Resource Center:

Ability Awareness Materials

State of Missouri Disability Portal:
Disability History & Awareness Tookit

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12110 Clayton Rd, Town & Country, MO 63131  /  314.989.8100  /  314.989.8552 – 711 (Missouri Relay)

Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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