Washingtonville Ability Awareness Workshop Opens Eyes
By Eugenia Moskowitz
A few days before Washingtonville Lions Club member Celina Rofer hosted the Ability Awareness workshop, she worried, “Who will come to the party?”
She needn’t have worried, and was glad she prepared as much as she did when the donated Knights of Columbus hall started filling with over 55 people on the evening of Aug. 16. “We had a really nice crowd of teachers from both the Washingtonville schools and English Rose,” Rofer said, “speech and physical therapists, nursing and teaching students from Mount Saint Mary College, area parents and foster parents, and those with family members who have special needs.”
Guest speaker and education advocate Diane Troeller from Independent Living Inc., a non-profit quality of life enhancement agency for individuals in Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Sullivan counties, said that a compromised or changed ability to perform certain physical or mental tasks does not equal zero pathways to achieving those tasks. The words “disabled” or “differently”-abled are not simply politically incorrect, they don’t hit the nail on the head of what ability awareness is about, what people of all abilities must navigate, and how better to include everyone into all aspects of society.
To have her audience experience different compromises to the physical or neurological ability to manage certain tasks, Troller’s hands-on workshop offered interactive lessons regarding the effects of vision impairment (by looking through differently-blocked holes in cards), cerebral palsy (walking with weighted beanbags between knees and hip/wrist), and reading impairment (such as dyslexia). To get her audience to feel what it’s like to have Tourette’s Syndrome, she gave everyone a blank piece of paper and pencil and asked them to write out the Pledge of Allegiance, except every third word had to be erased and rewritten, while every time she clapped, everyone had to tap their pinkie finger on their page. In the ensuing cerebral confusion, most only got as far as writing out the first line of the Pledge, and very few made it to the end. The difficulty of managing one’s own neurological complexities, or how fast or well they can be managed, directly correlates to what people of different abilities can achieve in their lives. And the people who interact with such people can vastly help or hinder this. “What the workshop made me realize,” Washingtonville Village Board member and attendee Val Laudato said, “is that, depending on what ability a person has and how they utilize it, they can achieve anything — or really run up against a lot of brick walls.”
Since a fully-realized life starts with childhood play, Rofer has said that in working to create the Lions Den Inclusive Playground as an expansion to the current play area at 9/11 Memorial Park on Ahern Blvd., her idea was simply to create a space where children of all abilities could fully play together, which is not currently the case with most parks. “To fit in and feel comfortable,” Laudato added, “is the first step children take in achieving their full potential.”
Speech impediments, wheelchair etiquette, and problems related to executive functioning were also discussed in the workshop.
Rofer thanked Assemblyman James Skoufis, a longtime supporter of many ability awareness laws who is currently working to secure a grant towards the Inclusive Playground. Skoufis last year passed Zachary’s Law, named after a Washingtonville grad, which allows students who may take more time to finish up their high school credits to walk across the graduation podium with their class. Rofer also thanked Washingtonville Mayor Joe Bucco and Washingtonville village board trustees for attending. “The positive response I’ve gotten from the board for the Inclusive Playground has been overwhelming,” she said. Finally, she thanked the Knights of Columbus for donating the use of its hall and Betty’s Country Kitchen for providing the refreshments.
To learn more about how recycling deposit cans and bottles can help finance the Inclusive Playground, text Rofer at 845-492-1715 or go to the Facebook page Greater Washingtonville Lions Club. To learn more about Independent Living Inc., visit http://www.MyIndependentLiving.com.
CAPTION 1: Assemblyman James Skoufis experienced sight-impairment at the Ability Awareness Workshop hosted by Celina Rofer in Washingtonville.
CAPTION 2: The Knights of Columbus hall on Hallock Drive seated over 55 Ability Awareness Workshop attendees.
CAPTION 3: Washingtonville village board members and many others experienced physical impairments as part of the Ability Awareness hands-on workshop.CAPTION 3: