To “Walk a Mile” in Her Wheelchair
Thousands of children in the United States suffer from muscular dystrophy and the experience can sometimes alienate them from their peers.
However, one Anchorage school set about trying to bridge that gap with a unique project.
Fitting in is one of the most important things for a sixth grader but it can be hard when you’re a sixth grader who gets around in a wheelchair.
When Krista Stapleford was three years old she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, which impacts her ability to use all of the muscles in her body, particularly her legs.
So in order to get around, 12-year-old Krista relies on a wheelchair, but that means she stands out and not necessarily in a good way.
“I noticed Krista would be sitting over by herself and maybe one child would go over and sit by her and all the rest of my very nice, regular, happy sixth graders that, weren’t unkind, were completely isolating her,” said Krista’s teacher Judy Morookian at Grace Christian School.
Krista says no one teased her and she didn’t feel discriminated against because of her disability but said the other kids didn’t think to could include her because “they didn’t really know what to do” with her.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association made a suggestion: What if each of Krista's peers were to spend a day in a wheelchair?
“You can never figure out what that person's life is like until you step into their shoes,” said Krista.
And so began The Wheelchair Project at Grace Christian School last fall.
Allie Jarvis, a student who participated in The Wheelchair Project, said the experience was “cool” but recognized challenges like getting into her desk and walking through the hall to class because other students would look at her “weird.”
As the school year progressed, the bond between Krista and her peers grew stronger.
Another participant, Grace Christian School student Sophie Gross said, “I fully understand how hard it is for Krista and it was just one day but it was her whole life going through that.”
Krista said her classmates now make more of an effort to try to include her in everyday sixth grade activities.
The result: more compassionate sixth-graders.
“Don't judge anybody by any disabilities that they have,” said Jack McLaughlin, another student who participated in The Wheelchair Project.
And it’s a lesson that's gone beyond the sixth-grade classroom.
Morookian said the experience “impacted our entire school.”
“You can't judge a person by their cover because you'll never get to know them,” Krista said.
The sixth graders and their teacher at Grace Christian School hope that more schools will participate in The Wheelchair Project.