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View from a wheelchair

Posted on: 11th May 2015 | Category: Principal's Blog

Several weeks ago a family came to visit Surval, bringing their daughter who is permanently confined to a wheelchair. Surval used to be a hotel, and has many quirks and idiosyncrasies which make it challenging for those with difficulties in walking.There are small steps and slopes in many areas, and the path to the farmhouse and etiquette room is a bit bumpy. We were keen to find a way to identify and overcome any possible difficulties and decided to set up the Wheelchair challenge, with a student spending a whole day in a wheelchair.

 All girls from Foundation (Grade 8) were involved and assigned roles. Eva, the wheelchair user, wore a headband with a GoPro camera so we, and the original girl’s family, could see what the daily experience would be. She had a team of supporters, one pre-empting obstacles, one carrying her books and equipment, one acting as accessibility monitor checking size of rooms, whether the chair would fit under the desks, the height of tables in cookery and science: one timing how long it would take to move between lesson, and one as technician for the Go Pro camera which Eva wore all day. Finally we had two students recording their observations of the day and noting the attitude of others in the community: who spoke to her, whether they came down to her level or bent over her: whether they were too interfering and took away her independence.

This was an extraordinary experience for all the girls, and indeed for the rest of the school community. The old saying of ‘You never know a man until you have walked two miles in his moccasins’ was even more true in terms of sitting in his wheelchair. By the end of the day Eva was exhausted. The students involved took the project very seriously, and hoped that their findings would be helpful to the parents, and the girl, in deciding whether or not the experience would be possible-and fun.They realised that after the normal school day, and homework, the hours between 9 and 10.30pm might be the hardest: and they had suggestions about how she could manage to reach the games room which is in the basement and not accessible by lift. We were delighted by their imagination and initiative in suggesting ways to improve the experience. Here are some of their comments.

I hope the project was helpful for the girl and her parents: it was a great experience and it was also good to work with all my classmates.

Today was a really interesting day because I have never had a project like this before. From my point of view I thought we were going to have a lot more trouble but actually, we didn't. Because we expected more difficulties, the small problems were solved easily.

Today I spent all day observing Eva from a distance. I noticed many things happening around her and her reaction to different situations. At the beginning of the day many people stared and asked questions. Many people offered to help and I noticed that Eva was fine with that, she didn't mind people asking her how she was doing or helping her out with things she could do herself. People were just trying to be nice and trying to act normal but they didn't notice that they were making her feel different and stand out. By the end of the day I noticed that Eva was tired of people asking her how she was doing and if she needed help; she didn’t like it so much when people helped her with things she could do herself because she felt useless. Eva did not mind if you helped her with things she really did have trouble with,  but for example if you helped her pour water into her cup which was something she could do for herself she didn't like that so much.

The Wheelchair challenge in Latest News

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