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Connection Blog 

Ability Awareness Program Promotes Inclusion and Acceptance

Amy Parham

May 06, 2016


Berkeley, CA—Eli Cooper, 19, sits in front of two classes of 3rd graders at Thousand Oaks Elementary School to tell the unique story of his life.  The children pay close attention, as he shares with the students the things that bring him joy and the things that present him with challenges.  

As Eli speaks, it’s easy to see the children are relating to his story.  Sometimes life is difficult.  Sometimes life is easy. We all have our ups and downs.  Eli finishes his presentation, and the group of 3rd graders start to open up about their own experiences; experiences much like Eli’s.

“I know about needing friends.  I moved here [from Mexico] last year and didn’t speak English.  My friends help me.”

Another student reflects, “I’m not a good reader and so need extra help from teachers and my friends—so I get this.”

Eli Cooper is the Ability Awareness Advocate at the Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area.  He is presenting his personal story about having Down syndrome to all grades and classes at Thousand Oaks Elementary School—20 classes in total.  His mom and advocate, Jennifer Cooper, helps Eli make the presentations here and at schools throughout the Bay Area.

The DSCBAs Ability Awareness presentations are a unique way to educate students about Down syndrome and allow them to ask questions. Students become engaged and inquisitive and share their own stories and struggles about having cystic fibrosis, moving from another county, ADHD, dwarfism and many other challenges.  Ability Awareness presentations also spread understanding about Down syndrome throughout our community, and allow us all to learn that we are more alike than different.

As one Thousand Oaks student says, “Thank you for taking time off and coming to our class.  I never knew what Down syndrome meant.  You are so brave because most people don’t like to share their disabilities or something wrong with them.”

For Eli, giving Ability Awareness presentations is an opportunity to work on his vocational skills, including confirming appointments with teachers, ensuring he has all the necessary materials, having professional attire and demeanor, and being more involved with the presentations and students.  “I like being up in front of a crowd and educating them.  It feels good,” says Eli.

And this being Teacher Appreciation Week, these presentations at Thousand Oaks were requested and organized by Eli’s former teacher and inclusion specialist at Thousand Oaks, Anne Hirose.  A collaboration like this shows the profound impact a group of dedicated individuals can make in the lives of so many.  Together, they are knocking down barriers to education, employment, housing and community involvement…one story at a time.