Speak Out for Understanding When my friend, whose son has Down syndrome, told me how heartbreaking it is to hear the word “retard” used as a putdown, I knew things had to change. Concurrently, I discovered service learning, an instructional approach in which students research and address real issues by applying skills and knowledge ... First Person on the Last Page
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First Person on the Last Page  |   March 01, 2010
Speak Out for Understanding
Author Notes
  • Maureen Charron-Shea, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vt. Contact her at charronm@harwood.org.
    Maureen Charron-Shea, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vt. Contact her at charronm@harwood.org.×
Article Information
Development / Special Populations / Genetic & Congenital Disorders / School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Language Disorders / Reading & Writing Disorders / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / First Person on the Last Page
First Person on the Last Page   |   March 01, 2010
Speak Out for Understanding
The ASHA Leader, March 2010, Vol. 15, 39. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.15032010.39
The ASHA Leader, March 2010, Vol. 15, 39. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.15032010.39
When my friend, whose son has Down syndrome, told me how heartbreaking it is to hear the word “retard” used as a putdown, I knew things had to change. Concurrently, I discovered service learning, an instructional approach in which students research and address real issues by applying skills and knowledge from their school curriculum. This approach enables students of varying abilities to work and learn together in meaningful contexts. I brought together a group of high school students to explore the possibility of a service learning project related to disability awareness and asked: What if students with disabilities told their stories? Would they be treated differently? Would they be better understood?
The students decided to create a film to raise awareness about the challenges facing individuals with disabilities. The result was a compelling documentary titled “Speak Out for Understanding.” The film has won several awards, including the National State Farm 2009 Youth Leadership for Service-Learning Excellence Award presented at the National Service-Learning Conference and the Deborah Lisi-Baker Leader of Tomorrow Award presented at the Vermont State House.
The film centers on four students who told their stories to bring about change. It explains their challenges as students identified with attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, Down syndrome, and other disabilities. Students explore problems with discrimination, stereotyping, learning difficulties, and social isolation, and suggest actions to overcome these challenges.
“Speak Out” has been credited with starting a movement at our high school. Students are writing books, creating another documentary, composing rap music, and sharing their stories publicly and with pride. Thank goodness times have changed!
Disability awareness has become my passion. My hope is that this project will be replicated to benefit and empower others. “Speak Out” is more than learning and using communication skills to raise awareness. It’s about citizenship and engaging our community in meaningful dialogue. It’s about advocacy and speaking out for yourself and others. It’s about social justice and promoting a culture of tolerance and equity.
Yet at its heart, “Speak out for Understanding” is about the power of individual stories to bring about change.
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March 2010
Volume 15, Issue 3