April 21, 2014

Mostly clear

Message to students: Provide friendship not pity

MEDINA — Eliza Northrop Elementary School’s third-graders spent a week learning about living with disabilities. On Friday, Jeremy Jackson and Ashley Reinerth spoke to about 60 students about their lives. Both have cerebral palsy. Reinerth, who was born without eyes, now has artificial ones.

From left, Jeremy Jackson, People Together coordinator Karen Fravel and Ashley Reinerth talk to a group of third-graders at Eliza Northrop Elementary School about their disabilities Friday. Jackson and Reinerth have cerebral palsy and Reinerth was born without eyes. (DAN POMPILI / GAZETTE)

The students learned that Jackson coaches football in his spare time and works at the Medina County Achievement Center. Reinerth lives on her own in an apartment with roommates and works packing boxes once a week at Root Candles. While neither said they minded being asked about their disability, they said they don’t appreciate being told what they can or can’t do or being helped by a stranger without being asked first.

The Society for Handicapped Citizens — The Arc of Medina County’s People Together program came to Northrop to teach students about people with disabilities.

The program ran for one hour every day this week and concluded Friday with Karen Fravel, People Together coordinator, and Michelle Fortney, a department supervisor at the county Board of Developmental Disabilities, introducing Jackson and Reinerth to the students.

“We’re trying to get it very interactive and make it a safe, comfortable environment for kids to ask the questions they want to ask,” Fravel said.

Fravel, a former high school teacher who has a disabled daughter, Julia, said it is important to teach students to treat disabled people as equals and not someone to pity.

“Pity doesn’t help anyone,” she said. “Be their friend. Don’t feel sorry for them. Find ways to include them and find out what they’re good at.”

She said things like staring at people with disabilities or ignoring them are among the worst possible behaviors. And don’t assume that someone with a physical disability is also mentally disabled or vice-versa, she said.

Fravel has been teaching the program for about three years and has toured several area schools. She said the SHC/ARC’s goal is to get the program into all Medina County schools, a challenging goal because of limited school funding.

The program recently received a grant through FirstMerit Bank to keep operating, she said. The program will be at Hickory Ridge Elementary School in Brunswick next week.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.