Jennifer Smalley, instructor of the Psychology of the Exceptional Learner class at Mount Saint Mary College. (Photo by William Biersack)

by Shannon Cieciuch

NEWBURGH – Students in Jennifer Smalley’s Psychology of the Exceptional Learner class had the opportunity to experience being physically handicapped by having to use wheelchairs, crutches, and blindfolds during their class time on Oct. 9.

Rather than going to their regular classroom, students were asked to report to Guzman Health Services where the blindfolds, wheelchairs, and crutches were divided among the students. Each student was then challenged to do everyday activities around the campus with a partner and they were to switch halfway through the class period.

Most of the students in the class are seeking to be certified in special education and must have an understanding of different handicaps.

“Both mental and physical handicaps are overlooked,” said. “You do not really realize how hard it is to have such a handicap until you are put in that situation.”

In addition to the physical handicap simulation, students have also been put through mental handicap situations.

“Our teacher gives us worksheets that will have math problems on them and add pressure to the situation by not giving us a lot of time and also giving us problems that are foreign to us,” LeClercq said. “It gives us a look at what someone who might have a learning disability deals with on a regular basis.”

During the physical handicap lesson, each student experienced different problems depending on the handicap given. LeClercq was given a wheelchair.

“Getting through doorways was definitely a challenge,” LeClercq said. “Going up and down hills was extremely dangerous and you had to be super cautious.”

In a Huffington Post article, the Society for Science and the Public emphasizes the importance of hands on learning experiences just like the one that occurred in the Psychology for Exceptional Learners class.

According to the article, hands on learning is important because “communication and ‘emotional intelligence’ that are applicable in their current classes and future careers” help land jobs in the future.

LeClercq, who is also seeking a certification in childhood education, feels this simulation and the class as a whole has helped her prepare for her future classroom.

“I will definitely make sure that things are accessible for people with different types of abilities,” LeClercq said. “If a kid is in a wheelchair, I will make sure there is a ramp for them to get to class and if a kid is on crutches I will set up a buddy system.”

LeClercq and sophomore Melissa Kelly both recommend Smalley’s class to other students who are thinking about adding a special education certification to their degrees.

“I would most definitely recommend this class,” LeClercq said. “You learn so much that can definitely be applied to your career.”

Kelly believes that it was a great choice taking Smalley’s section of the class.

“I look forward to going almost every day,” Kelly said. “It is educational and fun at the same time.”