Program provides disabled children with ‘Unlimited

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    By JULIE DUVALL

    Several years ago three mothers of disabled children decided that segregated special education programs needed a face-lift, and that they were the ones to do it.

    “We all had children involved in school special education systems and after a while we decided that the schools needed a different vision,” said Eileen Chamberland, one of those mothers.

    Together they created Unlimited Possibilities Inc. in order to promote their vision of schools that included children with moderate disabilities into regular classrooms. One way they promote their ideas is through an annual Inclusion Conference. This year’s conference will be conducted in the Harmon Conference Center March 12 and 13. The first conference was conducted in 1993 and had an unusual beginning.

    “We called a national speaker and told him we had no money. He donated his time and we built a conference around his participation. We had almost 300 attendees and counted it a great success,” said Karen Hahne, who works with Unlimited Possibilities and owns Kids on the Move Inc., which provides services to infants and toddlers with disabilities.

    The conference is open to the general public and BYU students are encouraged to attend.

    “The idea is to educate people about how to include those with disabilities into the mainstream,” Chamberland said.

    The conference is especially focused on helping educators learn the skills that they need in order to make inclusion of special needs children into regular classes a success.

    “We want children of all abilities to be welcomed into the classroom so that they feel included in life,” Chamberland said.

    Chamberland said he thinks many teachers would like to help children of all abilities, but often have not been taught necessary skills. This makes the inclusion experience uncomfortable for the students and the teachers. The solution is to help teachers become more educated about disabilities.

    Professor M. Winston Egan, director of teacher education at BYU, said according to research conducted at Orem Junior High, kids with disabilities respond better to education when they are integrated as part of a team effort with other children.

    Egan will be speaking at the Inclusion Conference about the development of optimism. He said he feels that the conference will be a benefit to all who attend.

    “This is a great opportunity to interact with professionals and parents through speeches and workshops. Information will be delivered in an engaging way,” Egan said.

    Other keynote speakers will include Alan Gartner and Dorothy Kerzner-Lipsky, both from the City University of New York. They have served in leadership roles in school restructuring and have written many books on the subject.

    Mara Sapon-Shevin, a specialist in cooperative learning and diversity education from Syracuse, N.Y., and Susan Yuan, a parent from Vermont who addresses supporting families of disabled children, will also be speaking.

    Attendance at the conference is free of charge this year for the first time due to financial support from the State Office of Education. The conference will begin at 8 a.m. both days. For registration information call 378-2568, or register at the door.

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