Ability Awareness Week

This week-long program is designed to educate students about people with disabilities to help them understand that a disability does not define a person. The goal is to introduce and educate students about various disabilities and help encourage empathy. During AAW, we invite speakers to present to individual grades, hold a school-wide assembly, and incorporate awareness of different types of disabilities into the week’s academic, music, physical education, and art curriculum. The message of the week is that everyone, despite different challenges, has abilities and strengths.

The week will kick off with an assembly by Dr. Paul Wichansky, who despite having cerebral palsy and hearing loss, completed a Ph.D in Environmental Science and Meteorology from Rutgers University; he will talk about “Taking the ‘DIS’ Out Of ‘DisABILITY’,” with a message of tolerance and overcoming adversity.

Each grade will also welcome a guest speaker who will share their own unique experience:

  • Kindergarten: Kristina Ackley and Lily Brunch are service puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence; they are bringing Willard, a labrador/golden retriever mix;
  • 1st grade: Russ Holt, in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, is the owner of an estate auction business;
  • 2nd grade: Aaron Anderson, with ADHD, is CEO of his own businesses, including one that helps children with special needs learn to swim, bike ride, run and tie shoes;
  • 3rd grade: Adrian Forsythe, with Down Syndrome, is the Advocacy Programs Specialist for the National Down Syndrome Society;
  • 4th grade: Dr. Andrew Donald, who is deaf since birth, is a Doctor of Dental Surgery;
  • 5th grade: Brooks Wetzelberger and Tyler Barberis, with Tourette Syndrome, are ambassadors from the Tourette Association of America – and Tyler is a DuFief alumnus!

We will close the week with another assembly, by Dr. Gregory Bell, who was diagnosed as legally blind at age 8 and went on to receive a Ph.D in Early and Middle Childhood Education from Ohio State University at age 27; his message will be to “Focus On Your VISION, Not Your SIGHT.”

Specials during AAW will also focus on ability awareness: P.E. will focus on blindness and the Paralympic Games; music will focus on deafness, autism and Addison’s Disease; and in art, each student will draw their own “super ability” on a paper brick, and all the bricks will come together to build a drawing of our school in a mural entitled “Everyone Has an Amazing Ability.” The message of this project is that everyone should be defined by what they can do (not by what they cannot), and that everyone is an essential part of their school and community.

We encourage you to talk to your children about their own unique abilities and about the spirit of Ability Awareness Week. Please feel free to click on the links below for quick references on how to talk to your child about disabilities. If you have any questions or wish to get involved, please contact us at: abilityawareness.dufief@gmail.com.


Alysa Hinshaw, Special Education Chair
Debora Brakarz, AAW Co-Organizer
Betty Ball, President

Suzanne Pape, Counselor
Sima Berman, Special Education Program Specialist
Gregg Baron, Principal

We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future.

― Franklin D. Roosevelt