Just imagine if you were stuck in a wheelchair, unable to talk on your own, and people around you talked to you like were not intelligent or worse.
That was one of the messages that Denise Ghizzone, who cannot walk or talk on her own, gave to Point Pleasant Borough High School students on Friday. Her presentation was part of a kick-off celebration to start a new positive behavior program called "Be On Point."
She knows how it feels to be spoken to like she's stupid or like she has a hearing problem, when she is actually a highly intelligent person who can hear everything, sometimes things she would rather not hear.
"You have to realize, when you see somebody in a wheelchair, don't assume they aren't smart," Ghizzone said. "And don't assume they can't understand you.
"Most disabled people are offended at how people approach them in public," she said. "We are spoken to very loudly and ignorantly. We are the same as anybody else."
Ghizzone, who lives in Long Branch, came to Point Borough High School to change some minds and hearts, no matter how long it took.
And it did take some extra time for Ghizzone, 45, to communicate with the large assembly of high school juniors and seniors in the school auditorium on Friday morning.
That's because she cannot talk on her own. She needs to use picture codes and a device to talk. She also cannot walk and must use a wheelchair.
It took her several days to write the speech that she delivered on Friday morning and, when students asked her questions afterwards, it took her several minutes to communicate an answer because she needed to use the codes and device.
But communicate she did. She asked the students to be open-minded, kind and communicative with the disabled, even if they appear to be so disabled that they it may not be apparent if they can hear or understand what someone is saying.
"When you approach someone in a wheelchair, stand in front of them and please don't touch our equipment," Ghizzone said. "Be kind and talk to us, do not talk at us. Don't judge a person by what you see in front of you. You are missing a lot if you do that. We could be as intelligent as your best friend. Don't be concerned by what you see from the outside, because the inside is what really matters!"
Ghizzone's presentation was part of a new "Be On Point" program designed to encourage students to be positive with each other and the community in general.
Chris Ferrone, a high school physical education teacher, had heard about the program and got a state grant to pay for substitute teachers so 10 high school teachers could go for program training in Trenton last year.
Part of the program involves giving students tickets for positive behavior, explained Rebecca Muraglia, a teacher and director of the high school's Dramatic Arts department.
"A lot of the teachers have these tickets," Muraglia said, holding up small yellow tickets, "and when we see students behaving in a positive way, we give them a ticket."
There are tickets that can be redeemed for a free parking space, free homework pass, gift cards or free lunch at any of the program's sponsored eateries, including Surf Taco, Klotz' Kitchen, Vesuvio's, McDonald's, Lenny's, Jersey Mike's Subs; Round Dough with a Hole, QuikCheck and US Subs.
"It's an exciting and new way we will keep the students on task for positive behavior," Muraglia said.
Ghizzone's presentation was to encourage students to not only be kind to each other, but to be kind to those who do not look like them or have the same abilities that they do.
Ghizzone talked about how potential employers had not even given her a chance.
"They were not sensitive, they didn't ask me anything," she said.
Then five years ago she got a teaching job at the Schroth School in Wanamassa in Ocean Township.
"I love my job, I take great pride in being able to work and I'm willing to help anybody," Ghizzone said.
The Friday morning assembly, which will be repeated in the afternoon for freshmen and sophomores, also included Diamond Eyes, a rock band of four Point Borough High School students; free T-shirts that said "Character is a Choice" thrown into the crowd, games, prizes, performances by the high school marching band, cheerleaders and show choir.
Ferrone said the program emphasizes positive behavior in five areas: the classrooms; hallway and stairwells; cafeteria; bathrooms and the community at large.
"We are sending the kids a message that 'We have your back,' " Ferrone said. "If you're being bullied, or you're being called names because you stuck up for someone who was, we're here for you."
Biography of Ghizzone, and explanation of the equipment she uses to communicate, as submitted by her employer, the Schroth School, part of the Ladacin Network:
"Denise Ghizzone started at the Schroth Facility in September of 2006. Since then, she has hit the ground running with her numerous talents. Denise wears many hats here at our school, and she also works in many departments.
Denise is a 45 year old woman who gets around in a powered wheel chair. She has no use of her hands, arms and legs, and is non-verbal.
On the tray of her powered wheelchair is a device called, “The Pathfinder.” Denise operates and communicates with this special device using her knee. She does this with such grace, and it takes several minutes for Denise to program just a few words in order to communicate.
Those listening and waiting for her response must be patient, as it does take several minutes for her to maneuver the pictures she needs that represent her chosen words.
This is how Denise is able to get her message across. While she works tirelessly at communicating on this augmentative speaking device, Denise gets around on her powered wheel chair using her foot. This is just one of the many feats she has to contend with on a daily basis!
Denise lives in an assisted living facility in Long Branch, and is completely dependent on the staff there to help her with all of her daily living needs, including eating, bathing and dressing to name a few.
As mentioned, since 2006 Denise has worked in our Child Care Center. In this program, she works with the younger children reading them lesson-related stories and activities, which are programmed into her communication device. Denise also teaches the children in the pre-school about people with disabilities.
Along with teaching in our pre-school, Denise works with the speech department and assists the therapists with their AAC, (Augmentative & Alternative Communication) Group.
In this group, many of our disabled students who also use augmentative devices to communicate, are mentored and encouraged by Denise. Denise shows these students how to use their devices effectively, and makes sure they use them on a daily basis.
Denise makes it very clear to her students in this AAC group, that their devices are their life line, and daily use will only allow them to function more successfully in their daily living.
In addition to working with our non-verbal students, Denise is known as “the voice” of our school. She has spoken at numerous meetings for our faculty, staff and administrators, advocating for the disabled population.
Denise has done speeches on disability awareness to our teachers and assistants here at Schroth. She has also spoken to surrounding school districts, and has successfully demonstrated to both children and adults, to be more aware and sensitive to the disabled population!"