A Small Victory For Adaptive Technology

I took off work today. I am the program manager for the state assistive technology program in New Jersey, where I work with our contractors to help people with disabilities get access to assistive technology devices and services. As a lawyer, I also represent people with disabilities in administrative hearings to try to get them access to durable medical equipment from Medicaid. But I wasn’t doing any of those things today.

I was at my kids’ school, doing Field Day. The way that Field Day works in our school is that you have different stations, and each parent that volunteers is in charge of one station, and explains the game to the kids, and they play it for ten minutes before they grab their water bottles and move on to the next game. My station had two games for the kids to play. One was called “Space Walk,” which involves a sort of curly-W shaped thick wire, which hooks on to two lightweight foam balls at either end. The idea is to balance the contraption on top of your head and walk a short distance, make a U-turn, and go back the other way. All the kids take turns, like in a relay race. The other game was a sack race, also done in a relay.

I’d had two first-grade classes, all of the kindergarten classes, and the pre-K classes all come through. I had figured the next to come through was the remaining first-grade classes. I was wrong. There were about five kids in the next group, all accompanied by an aide.

Special education class, I thought. How come nobody mentioned there was a special education class?

And then, hey, well, of course the special education class is out here on Field Day, it would be much worse if they’d been left inside. You can manage this.

“Okay,” I said. “What they’re supposed to do is walk with these things on their head from here to there.” I took one look at the class. That wasn’t going to happen. I was not about to try to play diagnostician with these kids, but there were some obvious balance and coordination issues going on. It wasn’t going to work.

“You usually have to be a little adaptive,” one of the aides said.

Adaptive, I thought, that’s a word I understand. “Maybe they can try balancing the thing on one hand, like this.” A couple of the kids tried it, but it wasn’t working very well.

I thought back to when I was in elementary school, and what I liked to do, and I came up with an idea. Parachute.

I took the foam balls off the wire thingy, and grabbed one of the sacks for the sack race. “Try this!” I said. I handed one end of the sack to one of the kids, and took hold of the other end, so it was stretched out. Then I dropped the foam balls on top of the sack, and started shaking the sack. “See! It’s kind of like a parachute game.”

“Good idea,” one of the aides said. She took some more of the foam balls and got her own sack, and had a couple more kids play the parachute game. As the proof of concept had been established, I stepped back and let the aides take over. After about ten minutes, the air-horn sounded, and the kids and the aides went off to the next station.

“That was a really good idea you had,” another of the aides said.

I don’t think this is anything more than a cute story, but it can illustrate a larger truth. We can accommodate students with disabilities, even in nontraditional settings. All it takes is a little imagination, and a willingness to adapt to situations as they occur.