Sixty grade nine students from Rick Hansen Secondary School in Abbotsford recently took part in an exciting new initiative with the Rick Hansen Foundation: a cross-curricular, project-based learning experience to explore disability and to gain insight into the question: “How has Rick Hansen changed attitudes towards disabilities?”
The project kicked off with a visit to the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre in Vancouver for an educational day of tours, presentations, and hands-on activities.
Tova Plashkes, the National Clinical Liaison at the Rick Hansen Institute, introduced students to spinal cord injury (SCI) research. This was followed by a tour of the centre’s research facilities. Students saw demonstrations of leading-edge rehabilitative technology such as the Lokomat® treadmill training system and the Ekso Bionics robotic exoskeleton. They also explored the Access Lab, which includes the Physical Activity Research Centre.
Rick Hansen Ambassador, Robb Dunfield, was on hand to offer students a glimpse into the personal side of disability. He shared his story of how he defied his prognosis after being paralyzed from the neck down and how he lives a full and meaningful life.
Students were then presented with a challenge: to design a means of transport to allow a person with a mobility challenge to participate in an activity or sport. Students worked in groups to develop and present their design in front of an audience of peers, teachers, and a team from the Rick Hansen Foundation. The students did a terrific job taking what they had learned and applying that knowledge in creating their innovative designs.
To close out the day, the students heard from Rick himself who talked about his injury, personal journey of overcoming barriers and the Man In Motion World Tour.
“[Robb and Rick’s presentation] definitely changed students’ views on the abilities that people with disabilities have.”
Jessica Thiessen, teacher
In the weeks that followed, students worked alongside Rick Hansen Ambassadors on a group project to gain a more in-depth understanding of disability.
“Working with a Rick Hansen Ambassador gave us information from someone with personal experience rather than a hypothetical situation.” Caitlin Shaw, student
When RHSS Principal David de Wit visited a class working on the project, every group called him over to talk about their project, their Ambassador, and their new understanding of spinal cord injuries.
“I was blown away at the level of engagement this project provided,” says David. “As a principal, you are always looking for ways to provide greater connections with the content and its application in the real world. This cross-curricular, project-based learning experience has provided just that.”
RHF ambassadors also enjoyed the experience. RHF Ambassador Cyndy McLean, “It’s a great opportunity; these students could be the next SCI specialists, researchers, product designers, etc. It is exciting to hopefully encourage their interest and enthusiasm for this area.”
The Rick Hansen School Program works with schools across Canada to increase understanding of disability. If your school is interested in partnering with us to develop a similar learning opportunity for your students please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also wish to explore our Abilities In Motion materials, which incorporate project-based learning and live presentations from Rick Hansen Ambassadors to teach about disability, access and inclusion.