Vol. 20, No. 13

April 5, 2001

Students help persons with disabilities get in the swim


University students Brian Tribett and Mindy Galella, along with instructor Steve Goodwin, help adult Roger Barry, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Photo by KATHY FLICKINGER

On a Friday morning, the Carpenter Sports Building pool is swirling with activity. It's the day that close to 50 children and teenagers with disabilities look forward to–the day they come to the University and team up with college students who are enrolled in an adaptive physical education course taught by Steve Goodwin, health and exercise sciences.

At the shallow end of the pool, a young man is gently propelled through the water by three students who support him. Another is moved backwards through the water and encouraged to kick. A small boy gets a piggyback ride around the pool from his student, much to his delight; another is bouncing up down in the water and others are tossing a ball. At the deeper end of the pool, the better swimmers are practicing their strokes.

Goodwin is in demand–one little boy wants him to watch him jump off the diving board. When he succeeds, he gets a round of applause from onlookers. Then Goodwin encourages a reluctant swimmer to get into the water, which she does and then finds she likes it. He helps lift a swimmer into his wheelchair and gives a thumbs-up sign to another enthusiastic child, which seems to sum up the relationships between the children and their student mentors.

Helping persons with disabilities enjoy sports, athletics and games has been a way of life for Goodwin. While he was growing up, his father, Henry, taught the adaptive physical program at West Chester University and also helped start the national Special Olympics.

Now Goodwin is following in his father's footsteps and teaches a course in adaptive physical education at UD. "We have two lectures a week, and the third session is a practicum. There are approximately 50 students in the course, and they interact with middle school and high school students, and others from the Mary Campbell Center and Easter Seals.

"I tell my students up front that they will learn more from working directly with people with disabilities than from anything I say, and they soon discover this themselves," Goodwin said.

The students agree. One said she learned people can do anything they want within their limitations if they try; another said she had worked with people with disabilities before and enjoyed helping. Keith Griesbaum said of the class, "I love it–it's great!"

"The first get-together for students and the children is in the gym," Goodwin said. "All sorts of activities are set up– basketball, jump rope, target games or working out on mats for those with severe disabilities. Some UD students are somewhat apprehensive at first but soon get into the swing of things. The whole point of the first meeting is for the participants to get to know each other and enjoy themselves."

Later, students are assigned a specific person and develop an individual education program with short- and long-term goals.

After two sessions in the gym, the class moves into the pool, which provides a unique environment for those with disabilities. "Even those who are in wheelchairs get in the water with everyone else and use flotation devices. Others are already good swimmers," Goodwin said.

At the end of the semester, students say the class has been a valuable experience, and some discover that they wish to continue in careers working with persons with disabilities, Goodwin said.

Last fall, Goodwin, with help from Sandy White of the Blind Athletes Association, organized the first Games for the Blind day to be held at UD.

The list of the day's activities would be a challenge for any athlete–track and field events, wrestling, rock climbing and pool activities. Some participants also played soccer, with waist-high boundary lines and different beepers at each goal. Another favorite was goalball– played with a large ball with bells inside, with teams of three trying to roll the ball over the opponents' goal line.

The day was a big success and another Games for the Blind day is in the planning stage for next fall, Goodwin said.

–Sue Moncure