A Touch of Understanding’s award-winning character-building disability-awareness workshop educates a new generation of students to understand the challenges associated with disabilities and to accept and respect all individuals. The program serves elementary-high school students, teachers, staff and administrators in local schools and adjoining areas. A Touch of Understanding is beneficial to all students. It might be misunderstood that this program benefits only students with disabilities. Although students with disabilities definitely benefit, the disability-awareness workshop has a much wider impact on all students and the school community.
This is not a typical school-wide assembly. In an average-size school, it is geared towards one grade level at a time. In the first 20 years of its existence, this disability-awareness education program has benefited over 100,000 children in the Greater Sacramento area. Our 2nd-12th grade experiential workshops supports a variety of learning styles by providing a hands-on experience to understanding disabilities. We guide students through activities in which they build life skills that enable them to understand and relate to people with disabilities. As a result, teachers, parents and students observe an increase in respectful interactions and friendships as well as a reduction of isolation and bullying in the school environment and community.
The specific focus is to help children understand the challenges brought on by a variety of disabilities. This exposure increases their understanding and comfort level with others who have disabilities. It also serves as an anti-bullying program, increasing respect in classrooms and on school campuses.
This three hour workshop involves a speaker portion and a hands-on activity station portion.
The Activity Portion – The message of the program is introduced by a facilitator, followed by (1) a video featuring individuals with disabilities involved in various sports and everyday activities, and (2) a discussion of things which are easy or difficult for each of us. Students then spend their time at activity stations. In the Mobility Station, they use wheelchairs and handle a variety of braces and artificial limbs. In the Vision Station, they use white mobility canes and write in Braille. In the Invisible Disability Station, they do a mirror-writing exercise to understand the experience of having a learning disability and use audio recording to help understand some of the challenges of autism. The lessons of the program are summarized by sharing true stories about experiences with people with disabilities.
The Speaker Portion – Participants meet with ATOU’s volunteers who have disabilities, who describe their lives, their challenges, and how they achieve their goals. Students have ninety minutes to interact with these volunteers, get to know them personally, and ask questions, some of which might be inappropriate in other settings.
Each child is given a take-home packet at the end of the program that includes an activity book to reinforce what they learned, information about autism (which is designed to remind students of the challenges of autism and to give them appropriate actions to create and maintain a friendship with a child with autism), a Braille alphabet card, a bookmark, a button to wear, and a questionnaire. One half is for the student to complete and another half for the parent or guardian. This encourages further discussion at home. Teachers collect the completed surveys and mail them to us in the envelope we provide. The activity book suggests numerous exercises/activities/projects to do in school to help the kids build up on what they have experienced. Additionally, we also provide a poster for the classroom to be signed by all the children who pledge “to be a buddy and not a bully.”
Teachers also complete a questionnaire approximately three weeks after their students participate in the workshop.
In addition to the questionnaires, students frequently send us written letters. The reoccurring themes in the comment portion of the questionnaires and in the letters are:
• A newfound knowledge and appreciation for differences resulting in an increased comfort level with someone with a disability
• A willingness to befriend others who have a disability or seem different for other reasons.
• A new appreciation for their own abilities
• An empowerment to reach their own goals despite difficulties.
The parent questionnaires indicate their children’s:
• lasting excitement about the workshop experience
• willingness to share their new knowledge and understanding with siblings and friends
• new enthusiasm regarding befriending someone with a disability
• increased self-esteem regardless of disability
The responses from teachers indicate:
• a lasting increase in positive interactions among their students as a result of new information and understanding
• the value of the workshop as an experience they refer to throughout the years in discussions regarding social interactions.
For the 2022-2023 school year, one full workshop, which includes both the activity portion and the speaker portion, costs $800 for 40 students to participate. For every student above 40, the cost increases by $15 per student. So, if you have 88 children in your fourth grade, the cost would be: $1720, since the numbers of students exceed 40 in each group.
If there are fewer than 40 students in a group, the cost is still $800. So, if there are fewer than 80 students participating in 2 workshops, the cost would still be $1600. Ideally, we work with no more than 45 students in one group. However, each school is different and we are as flexible as possible in scheduling.
• In two workshops (that run concurrently) we can serve a maximum of 105 students. (3 hours)
• In 3 workshops we can serve a maximum of 135 students. (3 hours + 1.5 hours after break)