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No Barriers Podcast Episode 145: Disability Awareness Education with Patty O’Machel



Patty O’Machel is a nationally recognized leader and on the front lines of (DAW) Disability Awareness Education in schools. Why this kind of programming is important? Why are children learning and understanding the disabilities of their peers important? Why schools need to be the change agent in the world and help their students learn about the kid sitting next to them.

If we consciously teach children about these differences when they’re young, then we are creating a community of people who embrace others and don’t let fear of differences dictate their lives. That is her mission… and today we’ll learn what’s she’s doing translate what might seem like a pretty lofty idea into action.

Connect with Patty O’Machel

https://educatingoutsidethelines.org/

https://www.instagram.com/educatingoutsidethelines/

https://www.facebook.com/educatingoutsidethelines

https://www.linkedin.com/in/patty-omachel/

https://www.moveunitedsport.org/

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Episode Transcript

Patty O'Machel:

Teaching kids changes the world. These kids, every one of these kids, are going to have a peer like my daughter or a classmate or a coach or a teacher or a boss eventually, or a coworker who has some sort of disability. 15% of the world's population has a disability. All of us will be in contact with somebody, with a disability or a difference, and teaching kids young to understand what disability means and what differences means and accept it makes the world a better place. Because then, the isolation of that kid on the playground who struggles with social interaction or the kid in a wheelchair who can't get onto the soccer field, all of those things can be alleviated if you start with kids. And they'll bring it with them into adulthood.

Erik Weihenmayer:

It's easy to talk about the successes. But what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barrier's life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit, exists the map. That map, that way forward, is what we call no barriers.

Didrik Johnck:

I'm going to state the obvious. Every one of us is different and unique. We're good at some things and struggle with others. As adults, everyone we interact with every day, from friends to coworkers, also have differences. Our kids are living in the same world. They have classmates and friends who have differences and disabilities. They will have teachers, doctors, coaches also with differences and perhaps some disabilities. These are the words of our guest, Patty O'Machel. If we consciously teach children about these differences when they're young, then we are creating a community of people who embrace others and don't let fear of differences dictate their lives. That's her mission. And today, we'll learn what she's doing to translate what might seem like a pretty lofty idea into action.

Didrik Johnck:

Dave Shurna is our host for this episode. He's back in action after taking some time off to spend with his family. He recently ticked off a bucket list experience, witnessing firsthand the great Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska. Our regular host, Erik Weihenmayer, is off climbing big mountains in Ecuador for a few weeks. Without further ado, let's go to the front lines of disability awareness education in schools, with Dave and Patty. I hope you enjoy it. I'm producer Didrik Johnck, and this is the No Barriers Podcast.

Dave Shurna:

Well, welcome to another addition of our No Barriers Podcast. It's a beautiful spring day here in Colorado, and I am joined today by someone calling in from Chicago. Patty O'Machel, it's great to have you here. Can you hear me all right?

Patty O'Machel:

I can hear you great. Thank you for having me.

Dave Shurna:

And did I get your last name pronounced correctly? Is it O'Machel?

Patty O'Machel:

It's O'Machel.

Dave Shurna:

O'Machel. Great. Okay. Well Patty, thank you so much for taking time to join us on our podcast. I'm pretty excited to have a conversation today about disability, inclusion and the importance of educating people at a young age about these topics. And so Patty's an expert on these issues. She has her own organization that focuses on bringing diversity and inclusion education to schools. And we're excited to talk to you today Patty. Thanks so much.

Patty O'Machel:

I'm really honored to be here. I told you before the recording, I'm a fan girl now, because I love everything that you're doing.

Dave Shurna:

Well, thank you, Patty. We are calling you from Chicago. So are you a native? Did you grow up in Chicago or where are you from originally?

Patty O'Machel:

I am from here. I actually grew up two doors down. My dad had passed away. I'm the youngest of six, and my dad had passed away in the Keys in Florida where they lived and my mom brought us back here, and I was born here, two doors down.

Dave Shurna:

Wow. Okay. So you haven't moved too far from your childhood home.

Patty O'Machel:

I've had a few adventures in between, but I landed back here with my family, which is great.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. I'd love to just dive right in and have you tell our listeners about the work you're doing? Just at the top level, because we'll dive in with further questions. Give us a quick summary of the work you're doing to educate students in schools about diversity and inclusion.

Patty O'Machel:

I started this program years ago as a volunteer and developed it into something I'm really proud of that I can bring to schools everywhere. It's a hands-on program currently, which allows kids to experience the things that I think about disabilities that are scary. The things like wheelchairs and prosthetic legs and arms and brail and differences. And it allows them to experience it and have a hands-on approach. So I bring in wheelchairs and bikes and hand cycles and prosthetic legs and prosthetic arms. And kids get to touch and feel and experience things that are associated with disability. And it takes all the fear away. Now I'm developing a program, that's going to be virtual that I can scale and take anywhere in the United States, or the world, and teach kids about disabilities.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah, it's amazing. So when you're in a school, give me a really concrete example, whether it's with a wheelchair or teaching someone about blindness. What are the kids literally doing?

Patty O'Machel:

So the difference of my program is that every grade level is different. So it builds upon itself. So what you learn in kindergarten, you learn something completely different in first grade, second grade, third grade. So each grade gets to experience different things about disabilities and the tools that people with disabilities use. So for example, first graders learn about helping tools. And we talk about prosthetic and communication boards and wheelchairs. And most of these kids are scared of those things. If they went to Target and saw somebody with a prosthetic leg, it would be scary. My daughter has a wheelchair. When they're around her, I see kids circle her chair and stare at her instead of talking to her. And so we talk about how people with disabilities are just people. They just need different tools to do the things they do.

Patty O'Machel:

They learn the difference of a sports wheelchair and a regular wheelchair. They learn how kids who can't use their legs, ride a bike, and then they get to try it. They get to make communication boards of their own. I bring in prosthetic legs and arms and hands and show them how prosthetics are just different. They're just technology, like a robot leg that somebody would use. And once they touch it and feel it changes everything. The whole week is about celebration. It's about celebrating abilities and disabilities, and I have a three ring circus going on. There's speakers and service dogs and bikes and wheelchairs and it's so much fun. And every kid says, "I loved it. I loved everything I learn." They go home raving to their parents, "I rode a bike in the hallway at school without my legs."

Patty O'Machel:

And then as they progress, like the fourth graders for example, learn about sports for people with physical disabilities. And I bring in 30 wheelchairs and they get to play Sharks and Minnows and basketball. And it levels the playing field a bit. And then in their second session, they learn about the ADA and how the ADA was formed. And they do an ADA compliance study of their school. And I teach them about accessible spaces and I teach them to go out into the world and, "What are you doing after school? I'm going to basketball practice. All right. Well, how do you think somebody with a disability would get to that basketball court?" Because I know that facility and it's down four stairs. And it makes them think about things outside of themselves.

Dave Shurna:

So just logistically, it sounds like you've got a grade level specific program changes with grades. And it sounds like you're alluding to this, it's a week long program. Is it during Disability Awareness Week? And how much time per day do people spend, do the kids spend, learning in this atmosphere?

Patty O'Machel:

It starts, we kick it off with an assembly and I bring in the most amazing Paralympians and athletes, and they talk about the sports they love and the things they do. And they just set a tone for the fun we're going to have all week. And then each grade level has half hour of programming. So it takes up about 12, 13 hours during the week, but that's not all in one classroom. And I also have programs that reach into the music, art, gym library, and STEM, so that kids aren't just getting a one and done program that checks a box of, oh, we talked about disabilities, but they get about 1,500 touch points during the week when they're at school of all the different parts of disability and ability and different things.

Patty O'Machel:

The fifth graders learn about hidden disabilities, when they're going into middle school and being self advocates and learning that this is just one part of them that makes them different. But they can still be incredibly successful building on their strengths, and how people with disabilities who are successful are self advocates and who ask for what they need. And it's really important in fifth grade that these kids, that it normalizes their behaviors and their experiences, and gives them something to be proud of.

Dave Shurna:

And does it go all the way up through middle school then as well, or is it elementary school?

Patty O'Machel:

I have a middle school program, but I've been focusing on the elementary school program.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. Well that's a great overview for our listeners to just understand the parameters. It changes by grade, it's a week long, it has an assembly to kick it off and then 30 minute segments throughout the week, an amazing educational experience focusing on really understanding diversity and inclusion, and very hands-on. And so I'd like to talk to you about, you mentioned, I think you said I'm one of the only organizations that's doing this hands-on approach. So talk to us a little bit about what you saw as you looked out at what was being offered and why you developed the program you developed to meet a need?

Patty O'Machel:

I started when my kids were little. I have a 19 year old, a 17 year old and a 13 year old. My 19 year old started at the elementary school in kindergarten and there was a program in place. And it was lovely, it was kind, it was compassionate. I loved the moms and the PTO who did it. But what I found was, it was very much focused on pity. It was very much focused on us and them and separating kids with disabilities. And the experiences the kids got were like, okay, we have one wheelchair and one kid gets to get pushed in it. And it's a huge oversized nurse's office wheelchair, or we'll put oven mitts on the kids and they'll button their buttons and that's what it's like to have a physical disability.

Patty O'Machel:

And I wanted to create a program that actually showed kids that people with disabilities are just people, and show them all of these tools and things that were scary to them. So as these moms' kids aged out, I took over the program as a volunteer and started bringing in speakers and activities and things that were exciting and really showcased the tools that people use. So my first speaker was Melissa Stockwell. She's a one leg amputee. She was the first woman injured in the Iraq War. And she came in and she was nine months pregnant and did the first assembly and took her leg off and was like, oh my gosh, these kids are going to freak out. And they loved every minute of it. And all the activities that I started bringing in, built upon each other.

Patty O'Machel:

I'm a social worker by trade. I'm the mom of a daughter with cerebral palsy as well. So I have a lot of equipment. But I was working with leukemia and lymphoma patients as a social worker for 10 years. And my mom, who I adored, always said, "You should do this for a job, you light up when you do this." And I'm like, "This isn't a job. This isn't something you could do." And then I quit my job and I created my own business doing this. And what I found was a couple things. One, these very wonderful programs that PTO moms run, or PTO dads, they're passing the baton. So there's no consistency in programming. When your kid ages out, you pass the baton onto someone else who runs the committee and does their own messaging. My program is also super easy. So the teachers don't have to reinvent the wheel or do the program or create anything new.

Patty O'Machel:

We bring in the whole program and the teachers can just experience it with the kids. I didn't want to add anything to a teacher's load that is already so overwhelming. So that was why I designed it the way it is. So when I come in, I have all the equipment, I have all the activities. I have lesson plans, I have social emotional learning alignment, I have all of the resource links, I have everything that is needed. And it's easy for schools to hire our program and bring in this messaging without much work added to them.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. Now, now from a history and background perspective, you alluded to you've got a child who has CP, you're a social worker. Talk to me a little bit more about, was it the fact that you had a child with a disability that really inspired this work? Was it a combination of that and the social work? What do you think drove you to make this commitment to really making this be your career?

Patty O'Machel:

I think it was very much her. I think it was very much parenting a child with a disability and seeing the differences in kids. And I have this belief that teaching kids changes the world, that these kids, every one of these kids, are going to have a peer like my daughter or a classmate or a coach or a teacher or a boss eventually, or a coworker who has some sort of disability. 15% of the world's population has a disability. All of us will be in contact with somebody with a disability or a difference.

Patty O'Machel:

And teaching kids young to understand what disability means and what differences means and accept it makes the world a better place because then the isolation of that kid on the playground who struggles with social interaction or the kid in a wheelchair who can't get onto the soccer field, all of those things can be alleviated if you start with kids and they'll bring it with them into adulthood. And just seeing the way that kids interacted with my daughter and we would be at affluent, educated places and suburbs around where we live and kids would still just walk around her and stare at her and not talk to her.

Patty O'Machel:

And my daughter is really different. She doesn't have any cognitive delays. She's verbal, she just can't walk. She's in regular classes at her high school. She's going to go to college, God willing, we're looking for colleges now. But she's a regular kid, she just needs this wheelchair in order to do the things she wants to do. As a social worker, I worked in medical social work for a long time. I knew people who had limb loss, I knew disability, but I didn't know it the way I know it as a parent. And when she was three, we were at a park in town and there was an event for Midwestern games for kids with disabilities to do track and field and all of those sports. And they were at the same park.

Patty O'Machel:

And I was pushing her on the swing and looking around at kids with no legs or kids with prosthetics or kids in wheelchairs, kids in walkers, and it blew me away. And this woman, Keri Serota, who started an organization called Dare2tri for para triathletes. She came up to me and she's like, "Hey, does your daughter want to go water skiing tomorrow?" And I'm like, "No, she can't walk. Are you kidding me?" And I took Shea water skiing and it was a life changing experience for me.

Patty O'Machel:

I'll tell you this little story. We got there and walked out on this pier and I am terrified. I am going to put my baby into a water ski attached by a rope to a boat, a zip ski. And I got on the boat and all these 18 year old girls came down the pier and they were in wheelchairs and had prosthetics and they were taking off their legs and jumping out of their chairs and talking about this dance they had all been at for their high school the night before. And I was listening to them talk and I started crying and I was like, "Oh my God, it's going to be okay." She has a future and it's going to be beautiful and it's going to be okay. And it was the first time that I really felt that.

Dave Shurna:

I love that story.

Patty O'Machel:

And had been around a significant amount of people with disabilities.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah, yeah. No Barriers, we have an annual event that's coming up at the end of August this year in Estes Park, Colorado are called the No Barriers Summit, that attracts hundreds, sometimes thousands of people with and without disabilities and challenges to try things they've never tried before. And so you have that same spirit of looking around at people of all differing abilities and seeing them do things that you might not have expected them to be able to do. And it's a beautiful mix of people with and without disabilities. So my kids do not have any disabilities, but they've been going since they've been born. And it's an amazing experience for them going back to the mission of your organization too, to be exposed to that and to not make immediate assumptions about what people can and cannot do by just being exposed to being around and shared, activities with each other.

Dave Shurna:

So if anyone's listening and wants to have that experience for themselves or their kids.

Patty O'Machel:

I want to come.

Dave Shurna:

Check out the No Barriers Summit. Yeah, nobarriersusa.org, No Barriers Summit in August. I love that story, and I thank you so much for sharing a bit about your experience with your daughter. Why do people, when they see someone with a visible disability, blindness, in a wheelchair, why do you think they shy away from, or stare or don't interact directly with that person? What does that stem from in your mind?

Patty O'Machel:

Fear. Fear and being uncomfortable. You don't know if you walk up to somebody in a wheelchair they're going to yell at you, are they going to be able to talk? Are they not? It's almost like a barrier. My daughter uses a power assist chair that she doesn't need all that chair, but she insists on it. But it's a lot of chair and not a lot of person, as opposed to a sports chair, which is more person centered and less chair. But I think differences are scary to anybody. And even, I was speaking to my brother-in-law at one point, and he's a educated entrepreneur, really successful adult. And we were in Chicago and we were talking and he said, "I went to the health club and there was a guy with a prosthetic leg and he took his leg off and we were in the locker room and his leg fell over."

Patty O'Machel:

And he is like, "I didn't know if I should ask if I should pick it up or if I should ask if I should help him or what happened to him. And I was freaked out and uncomfortable." And that happens to a lot of adults. I don't think you get any more comfortable without exposure and understanding. I was actually at the Chicago Children's Museum a few weeks ago, doing an event for kids with disabilities. And I was speaking to this woman who is in medical school at Northwestern and super smart, amazing girl, uses a wheelchair. And she was like, "What do you do?" And I started telling her, and she's like, "I wish you could come to my school because I'm working with doctors, future doctors, and there's one or two of us who use wheelchairs and they have no idea. They need the basics. They need to play wheelchair basketball."

Patty O'Machel:

One of the things my daughter told me when she was in middle school, she's like, "I wish everybody could use a chair and see what it's like for a day, just to stare at everyone's butt in the hallway and have to use both your hands, and some of the doorways are too small." And so I'm like, well, I can't get 500 wheelchairs, but I can get 20 wheelchairs. And so we created this program where people would spend a day in a chair all throughout the week. And there was a lottery because so many kids wanted to. But we had the principal and teachers in wheelchairs and kids. And then we coordinated with the IT department and we did videotaping and interviews and reporting on what it was really like. And what these kids found and what the teachers found was it's really hard. Some of the doorways don't work, it's hard to get into the bathroom. My arms really hurt. I couldn't get where I was going fast enough. And it was an experience that leveled the playing field, and I love that experience for people.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. Yeah. Having done those kinds of activities, definitely, that hands-on approach helps you really get an initial sense of it. You all also can have the other side of this, which is, like say someone is blind, for example, like my co-host Erik, who's not with us today, I've done activities where you blindfold and you spend a day learning to walk with a cane. There is some caution that you have to have because if you just do it for a day or a half hour, it's pretty scary. But if you've been blind for most of your adult life, like Erik, it's not scary at all, it's the way it is. And if you've been in a wheelchair for most of your adult life, it is a different level of understanding.

Dave Shurna:

And so how do you balance that great opportunity to be exposed to something with the idea that if someone's lived with this, for all their life, it's often not their primary concern. They've learned to adapt. And they are just, as you said, just like all of us. That disability may or may not be their primary challenge they're facing. So how do you balance that exposure with the reality that people who get used to it that becomes just a part of how they with everyday life?

Patty O'Machel:

One of the things that when I started this program, and it's gone through several iterations is I talk to people with disabilities. Obviously, I talk to people with disabilities all the time. But I talk to people who are researchers and who actually work in the field of disability awareness. And when they said was you can't blindfold somebody and have them do a task for 30 seconds, and that's what it's like to be blind. Just like, if I could see for 30 seconds, I wouldn't know what it's like to be a same person. And so I created these goggles with Mod Podge that they're not fully blind, because most people are not fully blind, they have some sort of vision loss, and it mimics that. So my first part of third and fourth grade, which does deafness and blindness is I bring in a speaker who's blind and she's an author and a teacher, and she has a service dog and she's a mom and she lives in the city.

Patty O'Machel:

And she talks about her experience, "How do I get here? How do I parent my kid? How do I teach? How does my dog support me and what I do?" And then their next session, they learn about braille. So instead of just, this is what braille is, it's the dots outside of the bathroom. They get to use a Brailler and they get to write words in braille and see the difference in feeling and experience that. And then I have all these tools that they get to try, a cane and games like Connect Four and UNO and checkers and all the things that kids play, and different tools that help blind people. They get to learn sign language phrasing, and letters, and how people use American Sign Language.

Patty O'Machel:

So I think that the hands on approach to it, isn't just a, okay, put goggles on for five minutes. It puts something into them that they take into the world. So they'll see a blind person and they'll realize, "Oh, what kind of cane are they using?" Because we've talked about the different kinds of canes and the new technology that's coming out. Or I talk to them about, I'm like, "How do you think somebody who's blind, my friend who's coming with her service dog, how do you think she finds the bathroom? What if she walked into the men's room?" And they're like, "There's braille in the door." I'm like, "Are you sure? Have you tried it? Have you seen it?" And just opening their eyes to all of these different things takes them out into the community and their world to understand it.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. I love that concept. In some ways, these visible physical disabilities are in my mind, at least easier to reproduce and show people what it's like than some of the invisible disabilities that are prevalent. 10 tens of millions of people in America have invisible disabilities. So what do you do to help people hands-on experience an invisible disability?

Patty O'Machel:

80% of disabilities are hidden disabilities. I have two levels of programming for that. So the first part starts in second grade because in second grade is where kids start to be annoying. Kids start to separate. Kids are on the fringe of the playground and not included because of behavioral characteristics, which we know are hidden disabilities emerging. But kids don't know. So if somebody's really loud and doesn't listen to the directions, maybe you just exclude that kid. So we start really early with play.

Patty O'Machel:

So we talk about how we all play differently. And then I have them make these animal puppets. I have a puppet show that talks about ADHD and how ADHD feels to this puppet and why she can't sit still and pay attention and struggles with the listening to directions. And then the kids get to make these animal puppets and all the animals have different characteristics, like the monkey is really good at sports and really likes to be in charge of all the games. But sometimes, he's a little loud and doesn't listen to directions. And the lion really likes to play on the playground on the black top, but only one on one with another person. He doesn't like the big group, loud things.

Patty O'Machel:

So the kids get to choose a puppet and then we create skits of how everybody can play together. So if you're the really loud monkey and you want to play a big game of soccer out on the field, and you're the lion and you really like to stay on the black top, how can they come to a consensus and everyone play together. It takes the personality out of it. So the kids aren't making their own puppets with their own face, it's a little bit distant. But they get the messaging that we all play different.

Patty O'Machel:

I also talk to every class about how we're all really good at some things and we struggle a little with other things, because we're all really different. And I ask every class, "What are you good at?" And kids are like, "Basketball, ice skating, reading, art." I'm like, "See, we're all really, really different and we all have strengths in really different areas." And then the fifth graders, who are a little older, I show them a presentation by a boy who, when he was in fifth grade, he had the worst case of dyslexia the district had ever seen. And he was sent down to the second grade classes to read with the second graders, which is humiliating as a pre-teen. And a teacher in fifth grade recognized his strength in math and robotics and he had a full ride scholarship to USC. He was voted the third best math student in the country, college math student. It just took someone to find his strengths for them to realize how insanely smart this boy is.

Patty O'Machel:

And then we do a presentation where they learn about famous people who have hidden disabilities. Justin Timberlake has ADHD, Michael Phelps has ADHD. Walt Disney had dyslexia. We talk about how incredibly successful they were in different areas than reading, and how it's just the way your brain experiences something. So it's not good or bad, it's the way that your brain processes information differently, like a computer processes information the same for everybody. But our brains are completely different.

Patty O'Machel:

So Justin Timberlake could be on a stage performing and I don't know, what's that red hair kid's name? Shawn Mendes could be on the stage performing and they would experience it completely differently. And we talk about Simone Biles. One of my daughters is a gymnast and Simone Biles has ADHD, but she's able to hyper focus on three inches of wood on a balance beam and win a gold medal. So we talk about the strengths associated with it and how even people on the spectrum are incredibly intelligent and very, very different. And the way they experience autism is very different. I talk about I have a daughter with cerebral palsy. I know every single thing about cerebral palsy in my daughter. But every person with cerebral palsy is different.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. I love those. Those are great examples. From puppet shows to famous people helping connect with kids at the level that they are to expose them to those issues. And I think to me, when I hear you talk, part of this is about giving educational facts and figures and tactile exposure. But a lot of this, if we go back to what it sounded like you were seeing when your child was young, your child with CP young, is about developing an attitude of acceptance and interest that welcomes people of all diverse backgrounds into your fold. And that those are skills, certainly in elementary school, that can be valuable. But as you and I know, one in four Americans, adult Americans, has a disability, one in five Americans is a caregiver for someone that has a significant challenge.

Dave Shurna:

As you get into the workforce, you are almost certainly going to be working alongside people who have some form of disability, who might be taking care of someone with a disability. And so to me, a lot of what's needed is attitudinal and mindset so that at a young age, you're giving people the spirit of acceptance and interest and welcoming. Can you talk a little bit about that desire, the end desire around attitude and mindset being so important?

Patty O'Machel:

I agree with you. I think attitude and mindset are everything in association with this, and on both realms, in my daughter and Erik of feeling like I can be as successful as I can be. Even though I can't walk, that doesn't mean I can't go to college, I can't have a family, I can't do all the things that I want to do. And my daughter, I've forced her to do everything. She went water skiing, snow skiing, tennis, swimming. What else has she done? Forced her to rock climb once. I want her to be the athlete I want to be. But she's experienced all of those things.

Patty O'Machel:

And an interesting side note that goes along with this, as far as being a caregiver and a parent is... So my daughter got whooping cough at three weeks when she was an infant and stopped breathing, with pertussis. And so they told us at nine months, she has cerebral palsy because of the loss of oxygen. And at nine years I took her for an evaluation for a surgery and the doctor... We did films of her brain. And the doctor said, "I think the hospital mixed up your films because this isn't your kid." And I'm like, "I don't think this hospital mixes films." But he said, "This could be degenerative. You could lose her. This could be genetic. This isn't loss of oxygen." And I've already had another kid, I think I'm going to lose mine. It was the longest week I've ever had.

Patty O'Machel:

And we went to the head of neurology and he said, "You were misdiagnosed when she was little. This is something in her brain, the way her brain developed. But she shouldn't be this kid." Was like, "She should be in a wheelchair. She should be unable to walk, unable to talk," she was walking then with a walker and, "She shouldn't be the kid that I'm seeing in front of me."

Patty O'Machel:

And I took her this year to a neurologist. She developed epilepsy last year, so she's had seizures. And I took her to a neurologist and I'm like, "What do you think?" And after we met, it was COVID, you were doing virtual visits, you didn't ever meet her in person. And she said, "Physically, she doesn't present as a kid with CP," but she never has. And she said, "But her brain, on the screen, is not your kid." She's like, "She shouldn't be talking about college and being in AP classes and doing all the stuff she does." She's like, "The way that her brain developed, she shouldn't be able to do anything and you didn't know that. So you took her to five therapies a week and you exposed her to everything and you treated her like she could do anything."

Patty O'Machel:

And the doctor walked out and I was bawling. And my daughter's like, "That's good news. Right? She said something good." And I'm like, "I know, but how did I get this lucky, because this could have been so much harder." And it gives me so much space in my life now to teach other kids and use the gift that I just got in you to spread this message to the world.

Dave Shurna:

What a powerful story. Yeah. And what a testament to your approach to motherhood and knowing many people who are parents of people with disabilities. I hear often that idea of don't set the limits. It's easy to feel like the limits are inherent and you can't go beyond them. But as much as possible, try to push the limits and let your kids set the limits.

Patty O'Machel:

Yeah.

Dave Shurna:

I think that's just a great message for our listeners who either live with a disability or have a kid with a disability, is that idea of push where you can, really stretch the bounds of what's possible. Now I'd love to get back to, and kind of wrap up with a final discussion about the program. I'm sure that people who are listening are thinking well, "Geez, I'd love this program in my school. This sounds phenomenal." Tell us a little bit more of what's the name of the program, where can people go find more information. And if someone's, say here in Colorado where I live, can they literally call you up and get this program in their school?

Patty O'Machel:

Well, I'm coming to Colorado in May to speak for Move United for their conference on adaptive sports. And I have family in Telluride and family in Denver, so I'm happy to come to Colorado.

Dave Shurna:

Nice, excellent.

Patty O'Machel:

But my program is called Educating Outside The Lines and it is available in person in my surrounding communities right now. I realized over COVID, so I was clipping along really well and then COVID hit and I had to start off bring this virtually. And so I was Zooming into kids' bedrooms, I was Zooming into classrooms. It was remote, it was hybrid. Every day, it was different, and I realized I could scale this and bring it anywhere if I can create a virtual program. So for instance, like the ADA compliance study, we started doing ADA compliance studies of their homes. And then I videoed my daughter in the community, trying to get into all of the stores that these kids know, the hot dog place and Dairy Queen and trying to open the doors because it looks accessible, right? It's flat, there's no bump, but you can't open the door by yourself if you have a wheelchair.

Patty O'Machel:

And talking about like independence and accessibility, I figured out different ways that I could do it virtually. So I can bring the program anywhere, especially Colorado, because it's easy to find adaptive sports athletes there. But I'm creating a virtual program. So it'll be a plug and play program that districts anywhere can use and it will have portals of all of the different activities, presentations, resource links, lesson plans, all of it, and a school can just use it for a school year and have each different grade level of programming available to them.

Dave Shurna:

Wow. Exciting.

Patty O'Machel:

Yeah, it's exciting.

Dave Shurna:

That's a new evolution. It's like one of those stories, and we had some of these at No Barriers too, of what you discover when you're forced to do everything virtually. You discover well, wow, there's actually a way to reach a lot more people when you're forced into that model.

Patty O'Machel:

Yeah. I was talking with one of my speakers and that was the other really great part about COVID is I could have speakers from anywhere in the world. And so, one of my speakers, she used to do track at University of Illinois, and I met her in person when she spoke for me then. But now she is the head archivist for the Olympics and Paralympics, and she's still a track athlete. She was in Tokyo. And she was telling me, the Olympics really are working on combating ableism and the Paralympics. And the disability porn of the one girl with no legs who is in every commercial and makes everybody cry when they see her swim. And I think that teaching kids is the way to combat ableism. I think starting early takes all of that away. This girl is just an athlete and a swimmer and she's not the person with no legs.

Patty O'Machel:

I hate that people with disabilities are identified by their disability, like it's a stamp on their head, and there's so much more diversity to them. And I think too, just having kids who are younger, the whole LGBTQ community, they speak to it with complete acceptance. They don't care who likes who, who is coming out as gay, who is binary. They don't care. They just speak to it as if it's a normal thing in their environment because it is now. And I think disability really needs to be on that same plane.

Dave Shurna:

Yeah. Yeah, that's a great example of parallel educational efforts to help people be more accepting and inclusive of people of all different backgrounds. What is the website that our listeners can go to, to find out more?

Patty O'Machel:

Educatingoutsidethelines.org. And the new platform will be ready by end of May, to launch for the 2022/2023 school year.

Dave Shurna:

Wonderful. Well, that's really exciting. Congratulations on that. I know that's a ton of work to move things from a in person to a mobile platform and still make it engaging. So I applaud you on that effort.

Patty O'Machel:

Right. And I'm still going to offer both. So I still get the fun of being in classrooms. And can I tell you, after two years of kids dealing with COVID, when they see a fresh face and some new information and new excitement in the school, I float through the whole week.

Dave Shurna:

I'm sure.

Patty O'Machel:

It's so much fun.

Dave Shurna:

Oh my gosh. Yeah. We started an experiential organization 20 years ago and for 19 months, we didn't do anything in person. It was hard to recreate that energy and excitement and so great that a lot of it is coming back.

Patty O'Machel:

Yeah.

Dave Shurna:

Thank you so much Patty for your time today and especially for everything you're doing to educate the future leaders of our world in these important principles around diversity, inclusion, acceptance. And I encourage our listeners, if you didn't catch that website, check out our podcast page where you can find links to any of the resources that were referenced today. I love this very no barriers idea that at a young age, we need to teach people these principles so that as they grow up and become leaders themselves, they're just ingrained in them, it's second nature.

Patty O'Machel:

Yeah.

Dave Shurna:

So thank you, Patty. Thank you so much for joining us.

Patty O'Machel:

Thank you for having me.

Didrik Johnck:

The production team behind this podcast includes producer Didrik Johnck, that's me. Sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cotman. Marketing and graphic support from Stone Ward and web support by Jamlo. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. That's nobarrierspodcast.com. There's also a link to shoot me an email with any suggestions for this show, or any ideas you've got at all. Thanks so much and have a great day.

 



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