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During two full-day workshops held in the Surrey School District this month, adapted physical activity specialist Lauren Lieberman spoke about how to better include children with visual impairments, deafblindness, or multiple disabilities in physical activity. Lieberman (pictured at right) is an American Distinguished Service Professor at The College at Brockport in the area of Adapted Physical Development and frequently speaks at events and conferences about her work in inclusivity.
The event took place at the district Resource and Education Centre, and saw more than 150 attendees from across B.C. and the U.S. Participants included teachers of the blind/visually impaired, teachers of the deaf or hard of hearing, teachers of the deafblind, orientation & mobility specialists, EAs, Surrey College student EAs, deafblind intervenors, administrators of inclusion, parents and students.
The Surrey School District is a leader in inclusion, and has a team dedicated to the support of physically disabled students, led by Director of Instruction Michelle Schmidt. The team includes specialized teachers for students with deafblindness and specialized teachers of students with visual impairments. One of the teachers, Jeanine Pieper, saw Lieberman speak at a conference last year and pushed for her to come to Surrey.
Pieper has experience working with visually impaired students in other B.C. school districts but has stayed in Surrey because of the high level of care for students.
"If you can make a case for something and demonstrate why we need it here for our students, we will most likely make it happen," she explains.
Following Lieberman's workshop, Schmidt says her team will be committing to further research projects in the area of adapted physical education for Surrey students.
Pieper highlighted the need for more adaption efforts in physical education (PE) classes.
"If you don't have the knowledge, people think it's okay to just pull kids from class and walk around the school with an EA," she says. "It's our biggest goal to stop that from happening, so kids can be included in regular PE class, and we can see kids happy and playing with everyone else."
She says that adapting is often simpler than anticipated. Using sports equipment with brighter colours, or balls that beep or have bells in them can quickly make a class more inclusive. Even putting two hula hoops taped together around a basketball hoop can allow an adapting student score points for his or her team.
There are currently 87 students who are physically dependent in Surrey Schools, and there are 39 students who are blind who get support from a specialized teacher.
Schmidt, however, estimates that up to 1,000 additional students in the district would benefit from adapted support services. The district has roughly 1,300 students with autism spectrum disorder, with varying levels of physical dependence and visual impairment. Schmidt also notes that the number of students diagnosed with autism continues to rise by about 100 each year, as more families get their children tested. And for good reason; with diagnosis can come added support – financial and otherwise.
A major resource Surrey already provides is our own adapted physical education specialist, Deb Murin. Murin serves as a physical education teacher at Johnston Heights Secondary, and is also the coordinator of the Adapted Physical Activity program. Teachers in the district are able to request a visit to their classes at the elementary or secondary level, where Murin will tailor the session to meet the student's abilities and demonstrate adaptions to the class.
Find out more about adapted physical activity through BC Blind Sports here.
For resources for children who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or partially sighted, click here or here.
Reach out to Surrey's specialists and teachers of students with visual impairments here.
~Story by Laura Johnston