Watch: This New Program Aims to Increase Disability Inclusion and Awareness In Schools

I am delighted to have Patty O’Machel back with us as a guest blogger. Patty is a writer, special needs advocate and mom. Her blog Parenting Outside The Lines collects and shares the stories of parents all over the world who are raising children with special needs, and her guest post today lets you in on another “Outside the Lines” project that launched earlier this month –just in time for the new school year!

by Patty O’Machel

Patty and her daughter outside on a sunny day

Patty (right) and her daughter (left)

Ability awareness is a passion project of mine. This is where my heart lies, as the mother of a little girl with cerebral palsy and as an advocate for change and acceptance. I want to share Ability Awareness programs in schools all over the country and help to change perceptions in kids of all ages.

And so, earlier this month, I launched a new business called Educating Outside the Lines. This project stems from my core belief that “kids with disabilities are just kids.” I want the world to see what I see. I want them to see ability.

The overall objective of bringing ability awareness programming into the school system is to break down the barriers between children with and without disabilities, and to help erase the fear of differences.

Every kid with a disability is someone’s child, someone’s classmate or someone’s friend, and today’s schools include children with all types of disabilities or challenges. Every child who has a classmate or friend who is physically or developmentally challenged learns a lesson in acceptance and understanding that they will take with them into adulthood.

Students in a gym testing out wheelchairs and tossing up a basketballSchools are instrumental in breaking down barriers, fears and misunderstanding about disabilities. By celebrating and enlightening kids, school becomes the change agent the world needs to include and accept children with disabilities in every aspect of life.

I have been able to develop my Educating Outside the Lines program into several areas of focus, from assembly speeches to grade-level specific programming. With the help of many partners in the disability world, my passion has come to fruition.

A Chicago-based firm called Small Forces creates short documentaries that highlight the work of grass roots organizations and people making their communities better. As part of a grant project, Small Forces worked with Educating Outside the Lines to produce a video that completely encapsulates the impact of the program. The video launched on The Mighty Parents Facebook page on Friday, August 3 and had been viewed over 18,400 times in its first five days online. The beauty of the short video is in the voices of children with disabilities speaking from their own perspective about what this kind of education means to them personally.

I am so proud of this video and of the voices of the kids. The show stopper is one of Easterseals own, Ahalya Lettenberger, who with her brother Charlie served as the Youth Ambassadors for the Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley Gala in 2017. Ahalya is an amazing example of “abilities” in every aspect of her life. While her disability doesn’t allow her to walk independently for long distances, she is a 16-year-old girl on the move. She competes internationally in paratriathlons, she is an above average student in high school, and is on her schools’ swim team. In the video, Ahalya speaks of her experiences with peers not always understanding her disability, and she shares her message with school-aged kids about how to fight back when life gets hard, and to achieve and strive for your own personal goals. Her message is of strength, acceptance and ability.

Ahalya Lettenberger

Ahalya Lettenberger

The video also highlights a 16-year-old high school hockey player with dyslexia who speaks about his experience with a hidden disability, and his peers’ misunderstanding of what he really must conquer each day sitting next to them in class. My 13-year-old daughter uses a wheelchair to get around her junior high, and she’s in the video, too. She speaks about her overall feelings of invisibility with her peers, and about the misconceptions about the true accessibility of her school.

Prosthetic legs, wheelchairs, and hidden disabilities can often be scary to kids. Our Educating Outside the Lines program lets kids experience these things hands-on and serves to demystify the differences. It erases isolation. It combats bullying. It stifles the urge to stare and exclude. It bridges the gap between fear and understanding, and there is nothing more powerful than that to teach our children.

I am so excited to get my business launched, and praying that our web site and video get noticed by parents, teachers and administrators across the country to help them understand the importance of ability acceptance programs in schools. Please take a look at our new Educating Outside the Lines web site and by all means feel free to email me at pattyomachel[at] for more information on ways to bring ability awareness programming to your schools.


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