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Young Federationists Do Their Part
From the Editor: Early in their lives April and Amanda Jones made friends with Dr. Jernigan at national conventions. He enjoyed talking with the twins and showing them things. They are now in high school, and it's clear that they have learned their Federation philosophy well and practice it every day. The following article appeared in the May 1 edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Here it is:
by Jan Galletta
Blind since birth, Amanda and April Jones use briefcase-sized Braille machines to take tests, record notes, and to do course work at Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts.
In geometry class the fifteen-year-old twins form shapes like triangles and squares, using a glue gun and a waxy substance called Sticky Wicky. They rely on a special computer's audible cues for conducting Internet research.
With white canes to run interference and tactile signs on all campus rooms, they say they're as mobile as their peers. In fact, their biggest problem may be toting textbooks; it takes fifty-one Braille volumes to cover the contents of the printed biology textbook that sighted students use.
"It hasn't limited us," said April of her vision impairment. "In most ways we fit in here at school," added Amanda. But it was a different story at a summer camp the sisters attended a few years ago at a state institution for the blind, according to Amanda.
"We hated it. They treated us like we're not normal," she said. A generation ago the Jones sisters probably would have attended a school exclusively for visually impaired children, or they might have been homeschooled by itinerant teachers.
But nowadays, by law, most kids with disabilities go to class with their nonhandicapped counterparts, as public education tries to meet their special needs within an ever tighter budget. In Hamilton County, where the annual education budget is $230 million, special education students comprise about 6 percent of the total student census. Some $28 million, slightly more than 8 percent of the budget, funds their needs.
They are children age three to twenty-one who have one or more of seventeen kinds of disabilities, according to Irise Chapman, director of exceptional education. Nearly all benefit from inclusion with typically developing peers, she said.
"Most children with disabilities are not cognitively impaired. They learn differently but have the ability to learn equally with their peers," she said. "Students with disabilities function at a higher rate of learning within the regular classroom because the expectation for their learning is equal to that of their peers."
To do so, they may need accommodations such as wider doorways or adaptive equipment like electric lifts, according to Jane Dixon, exceptional education supervisor for the school district.
"One of our children has a trach (trachea tube) that requires suctioning. He needs oxygen, and a nurse is assigned to care for him in class. We also have children who live in nursing homes and some who are home-bound because of immune-system problems," she said.
"We have some children as severe and profound as Orange Grove has."
Orange Grove Center, which is geared to those with more than one developmental disability, is one of the private agencies with whom the county contracts to provide services for a handful of its students, according to Ms. Dixon.
But with some physical modifications to buildings, adaptive equipment, alternative curriculum, and staff members' critical skills, the majority of disabled youngsters are mainstreamed into the public program, she said.
For Lyndon Stamper, sixteen, that means keeping track of his elevator key.
"Three of my classes are upstairs," said the Tyner Academy tenth-grader, who is a wheelchair user.
Ramps accommodate his chair when he goes to freestanding buildings on campus. It fits everywhere except through the cafeteria line, he said.
Because Lyndon's cerebral palsy affects his fine-motor skills and handwriting, he uses a laptop computer for class work. But only in gym class are the course requirements different for him, he said.
Once, in physical education class, Amanda crashed into the bleachers while running laps around the gym, an activity she wasn't required to do.
"I don't like it that, if somebody gets hurt and they're sighted, one or two people might go over to help them. If I get hurt, I'm the center of attention," she said.
"I'd rather not stand out as being different from any other student."
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