Members of the Cal-Diego chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America have been bringing a positive message to local children with disabilities for more than 40 years.
Paralyzed Veterans of America's Cal-Diego chapter visits the California Avenue School April 2014. Photo courtesy Steven Shelden.
The effort – which takes place each April during Paralyzed Veterans of America Awareness Month – aims to educate local disabled children not only to see Paralyzed Veterans in a positive way but also to encourage special needs children that they can live full, productive lives into adulthood.
The idea, originally launched by the former California chapter, was brought to the Cal-Diego chapter when it formed in 1981, said Richard Johnson, previous national president and now a board member of the Cal-Diego chapter. Each year, the chapter visits California Avenue School – an inclusive school that serves more than 300 special needs children. The school, which opened in 1975 in downtown Vista, offers a range of services including adaptive physical education, speech-language therapy, hard-of-hearing services and vision services.
While the awareness month effort previously included visits to five or six schools and worked with significantly more disabled children, Johnson said the great work of Paralyzed Veterans of America in dispelling myths about disabilities has perhaps made their visits less relevant, though not any less meaningful.
“I’m not sure that the original idea is as relevant today because people see wheelchairs out and about all the time,” Johnson said. “Because of Paralyzed Veterans of America and the work we’ve done, the world has become more accessible and more accepting.”
The annual visit by the Cal-Diego Chapter includes a visit by the Easter bunny as well as the distribution of more than 200 stuffed animals and candy-filled eggs to the children.
“It’s great to see the amount of effort we put in to bring that much joy to the children; you don’t get to see that too often,” Johnson said. “The children are so joyful just to be hugged by a bunny.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America Awareness Month
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com