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Helping kids break stereotypes

First-graders learn firsthand about disabilities – and respect.

(Page 2 of 2)



Someone once whistled the "Heigh-ho" song from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" as Marie Trottier walked by. She's a little person, one of Doben's repeat visitors who works at Harvard University. At the Cambridge Friends School, students run up to talk with her and parents thank her.

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"It's nice to have that level of acceptance and inclusion; it feels good, versus the hurt and the stereotypes," she says. "They'll be great peer leaders."

Doben's curriculum, cotaught by fellow first-grade teacher Anthony Reppucci, is "much more thorough than anything I've ever seen," says Jacqueline Miller, a science curriculum developer who uses a wheelchair. "The kids ask very intelligent questions."

In the documentary, students watch wide-eyed as a man whose arms are paralyzed draws with his toes.

One boy asks, "How do people in wheelchairs go to the bathroom?" Another visitor talks about being born with one hand, and a girl asks, "Can you swim?"

One question they often ask: If you could fix your disability, would you?

Ms. Trottier answers no, saying she sees her difference as a "little person" as an asset.

Ms. Miller says yes, she'd love to walk again, having lost the ability 11 years ago after a fall.

The film "will really help people realize ... you can ask somebody [about a disability], but try to do it in an appropriate manner," says Emmett Steven, a fourth-grader who participated in Doben's disabilities awareness program when he was in the first grade.

Doben says she's been interested in disabilities since she was young, although not from any personal experience with her own family.

When she was looking for people to visit her students, she networked at local disability organizations and she also established relationships through everyday public contacts.

She once approached a woman sitting on a telephone book on top of a barstool. The woman is a pediatrician who happily agreed to start visiting Doben's class in Pittsburgh.

Doben's personal commitment stands out to Cambridge Friends School principal Jody Ziebarth.

The students start off not knowing what "disability" means and become "completely conversant ... about disabilities in a way that's mature for little guys," she says. "It's pretty remarkable."

For more information, see www.labeleddisabledfilm.com.

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