By Stella Nagle

      The Disability Awareness Starts Here (DASH) program aims to spread awareness and ensure that communities, like the Tri-Town, understand the importance of accessibility. 

      This program is a huge advocate for making changes to better the community and the school system. 

      When it comes to community accessibility, the program has done much work on the streets, ensuring the sidewalks, buildings, bathrooms, and even outdoor rail trails maintain a continuous stream of accessibility. 

       Without knowing why accessibility is so important, it is easy to turn a blind eye to the bigger issue, which is why DASH education is so important. The program is supported solely by donations from the community. Both businesses and families have helped support this program, allowing it to run successfully in the Tri-Town for over 30 years.

     While DASH has done a fantastic job with the community, it also plays a vital role in the school system. Because of their work helping the Tri-Town community, the elementary schools have implemented DASH into their programs. People with disabilities come to speak in front of elementary school students. Having speakers come and talk about their experiences in school and their tools for navigating the world serves as learning tools to help make education more accessible. 

      The DASH program is essential to our community, but it is also personally important to me. This past December, I spoke in front of all three Tri-Town elementary schools to spread awareness about invisible disabilities. I talked to students about my own struggles with navigating school and my learning to advocate for my own needs. For me, advocating for myself has led me to be a part of so many leadership positions. I realized the importance of talking with the younger grades during this presentation. I wanted to show how you can turn your struggles into a superpower with the right tools. 

      DASH is so important because it allows kids with the same challenges as the speaker to connect and know they are not alone. Others can be reminded of how simple acts of kindness and compassion can make a positive impact. Through my speech, I wanted to do both. 

      In the question and answer portion of my presentation, numerous students asked me various questions, and many raised their hands, saying they relate to the feeling of not belonging in the classroom, and others sharing their own experiences with dyslexia. 

      This response made me remember when my special education coordinator Kimberly Smith reminded me of the importance of learning from others early on. Though speaking to a large crowd of kids made me nervous, she assured me that talking to students early can help eliminate possible mindless comments from others younger in their educational experience. Seeing all of the little hands go up with questions and experiences excited to speak, proved the importance of my own words. Speakers under DASH have an important role in not only telling their stories but being a person others can learn from. 

      After speaking many of the students wanted to continue the conversation. It was then that I realized that with every word I said, a message was being spread to a whole grade of students. It is this conversation and communication that allows the creation of a welcoming and caring environment.

      School is hard enough without the added cruelty of others, especially your classmates. Support from classmates and teachers can make a key difference for students. 

     Within these presentations, students are allowed to ask questions, providing a safe space for open discussion about topics that may not be brought up often.

      An emphasis on issues typically not discussed has led this program to success. The program itself is accessible. With their website posting updates on new services and news on work that's currently in the process, viewers and supporters can learn about new news and tools that will be coming to their communities. 

      It is essential that these lessons are taught at a young age to spread awareness and knowledge of how you can be an active member in assuring your community is inclusive. DASH makes it so this is possible for kids in the Tri-Town and will continue to do so and improve the community, both physically and mentally.




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