Panel seeks to see beyond limitations

by Becky GINOS

SALT LAKE CITY—Assume competence. That was the overriding message at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Sutherland Institute called “Innovations for Students with Special Needs.”

Experts from several fields made up the panel to discuss ways those with disabilities could receive the resources they need and be integrated more effectively into school and business settings.

“Students often fall through the cracks,” said Christine Hansen a tutor at the Dyslexia Center of Utah with a location in Woods Cross. “It’s not a matter of how smart they are. They are very, very capable. Dyslexia students need one-on-one attention. It’s a big challenge for them. Some lose their motivation.”

In a typical classroom, five students are dealing with some form of dyslexia, she said. “They need a different type of instruction. It’s not a matter of changing classes. There are no medications or protocols to help these students,” Hansen said. “It comes down to money. It costs to create an individualized program.”

Getting businesses educated is an obstacle, said Leah Lobato, director of the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and Business Relations with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation. “Legislation has been in place for 28 years and we still have businesses that don’t understand,” she said. “Once they see their (disabled) true ability they’re members for life.”

Lobato said she’s walked into a shop room where all the lights were off and visually impaired workers were using drills, etc. “With the right accommodation there is no reason they can’t do it.”

Liz Longhurst who works with the National Ability Center in Park City agreed. “We need to support businesses to hire people with disabilities,” she said. “People look at an individual that is different than themselves and assume ‘can’t do’ instead of looking at what they can do.”

That’s the focus of GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down syndrome achievement center in Layton. “We have three-week-old babies to our oldest at 49,” said Brittanie Flint, founder and president. “We teach them how to live independently and get a job. Our biggest roadblock is helping the community to understand and see past the diagnosis they wear on their face. The hardest thing for older individuals with Down syndrome is getting their parents to understand their child is still very capable.”

It comes down to making changes from the inside, said Tricia Nelson, president and executive director of Utah Autism Academy. “The more you can advocate and get to know them on an individual basis the more you can make a change in the schools.”

Our mantra is “go as fast as we can and as slow as we must,” said Hansen. “Assume competence and tap into those things they have to offer. We can all benefit from their amazing talents.”


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