Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Slovakia, Day #2 & #3

Yesterday we toured two different schools.  One was a "special" school, and one was the school at which Terezia teaches.

It was touching for me to see toys that I had adapted and equipment that we had donated being actively used with children with disabilities.  It was very moving to see a classroom full of children using the talking word processor I had developed to increase their bilingual education - they could type a word and see how it sounded (in either English or Slovak), then repeat the word themselves.  We are thousands of miles from home and here are items that I had personally made in years past - in use and helping to change lives.

We worked with one boy with CP.   His seating posture was very bad, and his feet dangled freely.  I made a footstool for him; we will see if that helps his fine-motor control.  This boy had been working on the computer, but his mother had said "No more computer".  This was shocking to us, because the boy is very bright and has good social skills.  Computer skills will help this boy be much more functional as an adult.  I argued that he should continue using the computer.  The boy's mother came in later, and the teachers presented some of my arguments.  The mom changed her mind and said that he could continue learning the computer.

One of the things that we have come to realize on this trip are things that we take for granted in America like the ADA.  Kelly and I have grown up with handicap ramps being common.  We think nothing of seeing a person in a wheelchair.  We have no real grasp of all the battles that had to be fought in the hearts and minds and courts to bring America to where it is today.

For instance, the doorways in several of the schools here have a threshold that is about 1" high.  These are not beveled in any way.  Not only are such designs a significant tripping hazard for people who can walk normally, but they are a huge impediment to wheelchair access.  It means that a wheelchair user must pop a wheelie to enter/exit a room.  In another place, we encountered a sidewalk that went up a slight incline.  A ramp had been added next to a small flight of stairs.  It was a step in the right direction, except that the slope was 45 degrees.  He was unable to  climb such a steep incline by himself and needed someone to push him up the ramp.

We toured the castle of Smolenice.  It is a very magnificent structure.  While I have cautioned people many times against cultural architectural hubris (e.g. "Look what WE built") I still find it amazing to see ruins of castles built 600 years ago by peasants.  Castle Smolenice was built in the 19th century on the site of a ruined castle from the 14th century.

We ended the day by scouring the local big-box store for materials for the toy-adapting and switch-making class I will be teaching on Saturday.

Today we visited a child with spina bifida in Zilina.  We talked with her mother a while, then we went to talk with the mayor for a couple hours.  The elementary school is being renovated and the mayor was interested in making the bottom floor of the building universally accessible and wanted our input regarding building accessibility.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with the same family, brainstorming ways to come up with a better walker for the child.  We will stay in Poprad for the next two days.

No comments:

Post a Comment