Students experience a life with disabilities | AspenTimes.com

Students experience a life with disabilities

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Some Aspen Middle School students got messy Thursday working on art projects while blindfolded, armless and thumbless.

The students, taking part in the school’s Mentor/Challenge Program, were learning what it might feel like to try creating art if they were disabled. Stacey Degen and Mckenzie Jones from Challenge Aspen said the eye-opening experience helps the kids realize what living with a disability really means.

At three stations, the students took turns working on projects blindfolded, with socks over their hands and then with their arms tied behind their backs. They may have made a mess, but by the time the class was over, each student had figured out how to sculpt and paint with a disability.

“This is so frustrating,” said Patrick Cote, an eighth-grader who was molding Play-doh while blindfolded. Nearby, Haley Ortmann, 13, said she chose to participate in the Mentor/Challenge Program because she knew activities like this one would be challenging but fun.

“It sounded like fun to be able to help someone in the community,” Ortmann said. “And it’s a lot easier to see how they feel when you’re trying it.”

As part of the program, the students must spend a day volunteering with Challenge Aspen. Degen said the kids either assist instructors or go out with local Challenge Aspen participants on the mountain, running interference to keep other people on the mountain a safe distance away.

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“We do have some past students who have become long-committed volunteers with Challenge Aspen, who still volunteer to this day at summer camp and with local kids,” Degen said. “We’d like the class to embrace the community.”

Back at expressive arts day, seventh-grader David Hach embraced a paintbrush with his toes and tried to paint his name with his arms tied behind his back.

“I guess if I had to do this a lot, my toes would get stronger,” he said.

Jack Bethel, 12, and Justin Faurer, 14, held brushes in their mouths, working on their own “abstract art.”

Degen said children in the program often begin the course with a general lack of knowledge about people with disabilities and a daunting feeling about working with them.

“It’s a massive barrier between people with disabilities and kids. But they learn its OK to approach someone and help out, and they’re proud of themselves to be able to say, ‘Hey, I went over to help someone instead of being intimidated by it,'” she said.

A few girls finger-painting with socks over their hands explained that it’s difficult to paint without thumbs or fingers, as someone with incomplete paralysis or cerebral palsy might have to.

“I wanted to know how it felt to be disabled,” said Blanca Salas, 14.

“And how hard it is,” said Kelly Bogaert, 13. “After I had my hands tied behind my back at the last table, it’s nice to be able to use them a little again.”

Kaitlyn Parker, also 13, said the class had to spend the majority of a day blindfolded, and she said some people at school laughed at her. When the class tried sit-skiing during an outing, she said she noticed people staring. But she thought she was having success with her finger-painting endeavor.

“I think this masterpiece will go for $5 million,” she said.

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