By Mary Dondiego
Last semester, a mentoring and support program for students with disabilities was born; this semester, that program has a new focus – reaching out to others in the local community.
The program is called Students Helping Others Excel(SHOE)has a new community outreach program that seeks to educate and inform younger students about disabilities this semester.
Small groups of SHOE participants visit junior high and high schools in Utah County and discuss their disabilities.
The SHOE program visited three schools this past semester: Legacy Elementary, Grant Elementary and Pleasant Grove High School.
SHOE groups visit junior high and high school students because younger students usually don”t have strongly formed opinions about disabilities, said David Scoles, 21, a sophomore from San Jose, Calif., and SHOE participant.
“They don”t have the prejudices about disabilities that some older people have; they are still open to new ideas,” Scoles said.
Liz Baldwin, a senior from Anchorage, Alaska, and SHOE participant, said she feels the same way.
“Younger people are not concerned with being politically correct. They are not worried about whether to say ”deaf” or ”hearing impaired,” and that”s fine,” she said.
Lincoln Dewey, a sophomore from Bloomfield, N.M., said he likes working with sixth graders because they are not afraid to ask questions.
“It”s very refreshing. Older people have reservations because they”re scared they are going to offend someone,” Dewey said.
The new outreach program has not only benefited the BYU students who participate in SHOE, but also the younger students whom they visit.
“There were a couple of students we visited who admitted they had disabilities. When some went home and discussed disabilities with their parents, they found out their parents had disabilities they never knew about.
“It opened up a door for them to start thinking,” said Rochelle Rabe, SSD coordinator for Students with Physical Disabilities.
One message SHOE participants want to pass on to younger students is that someone with a disability has just as many options and opportunities as any other person.
“You can do anything you want – you don”t have to be held back in terms of college or anything. I want them to know that disabilities are not a barrier.
“If you get stuck and feel like you can”t do things because you have a disability, that”s not living a good life,” Baldwin said.
Another message the BYU students try to convey is some people have “hidden disabilities,” which include arthritis, learning disabilities or emotional disabilities, which are not readily apparent to others.
“We help them see how we are similar to them, not different,” Scoles said.
Besides visiting schools, the group has also done special needs firesides, which gave them an opportunity to incorporate gospel themes into their message on disabilities.
“We talked about our challenges and what we did to overcome them using personal experiences and scriptures,” said Julie Touchet, SHOE co-coordinator and participant.
The SHOE participants” favorite aspect of the program can best be summed up by Liz Baldwin.
“We”re not feeling sorry for ourselves sitting around. We”re having fun. We”re forgetting about our disabilities and helping each other; it”s great to get outside ourselves,” she said.
“This (outreach program) gives students with disabilities a chance to share, to some degree, their triumphs and struggles with their disability,” Rabe said.
The SHOE program, sponsored by Services for Students with Disabilities, was formed fall 2000.
Those interested in being a part of SHOE or the community outreach program can contact SHOE coordinator, Traci Allred at 378-2767, or go to 1517 WSC.