Tri-Village celebrates differences with first Disabilities Awareness Day


By Dawn Hatfield

NEW MADISON — Wednesday, May 18, 2022, marked a very special event at Tri-Village Elementary as the school held its first Disabilities Awareness Day.

Principal Shane Mead credited Jessie Henry for spearheading the event and arranging for Darke DD to be involved with special activities for students.

Sue Huston, of Darke DD, introduced herself, “My name is Sue, and I brought some of my friends with me today.” Huston acknowledged that her friends may look a little different and highlighted differences in a positive light. “We’re all different, right? I mean, we’re ALL different.”

Sam Ploch interjected, “I’m tall.”

The students filled the gym with laughter.

Huston pointed out that Julie appears short when she stands next to Sam and continued, “We’re all born different. If you look at your neighbor—take a look at your neighbor—we’re all different, and that’s a good thing.”

Huston then asked the students, “Who can tell me what the word ‘disability’ means?”

A student volunteered, “A disability makes you have to do things a little differently than others.”

“That’s a perfect definition,” Huston said. “Some of us have disabilities that you can see, and there are also a lot of invisible disabilities. Don’t we all kind of struggle in some area? Don’t we all need help in one area or another? Today, we’re gonna have fun, but, more importantly, you’re going to experience what it’s like to have a disability and to have some struggles. We all have to learn to overcome our struggles, don’t we?”

Huston explained students would practice empathy throughout the day’s activities, “That means you are actually going to know what it feels like to be that person, to ‘walk in their shoes.’ You’re going to find out what it’s like to live life with a disability.”

Huston then asked her friends from Darke DD to introduce themselves.

Sam Ploch has what he termed “a perceptive mind and a photographic memory” but is also diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. It was an earlier time period when Sam was a student, and he admitted, “It was tough for me because they didn’t know how to handle me.”

The Darke DD friends represented individuals with a variety of disabilities, from ADHD to congenital defects to cerebral palsy to Prader-Willi. Some of the disabilities are easily noticeable; others are more “invisible.”

More than anything, individuals with disabilities just want to be engaged with as everyday people. Huston explained, “You might look at [an individual with a disability] and think, ‘How do they do stuff?’ That’s always our first thought when we meet somebody who’s a little bit different. It’s okay to notice differences. It’s human nature.”

Francisca Shellebarger revealed what hurts the most is to be ignored, saying, “It means a lot for you to just say, ‘Hi.’ It means we’re not alone.”

Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.

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