Proclamation: Nov. 2-8 Disabilities Week in Commonwealth

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The entire student body of Cartmell Elementary School on Monday witnessed a bit of Kentucky history on the Capitol steps in Frankfort.

Steve Nunn, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, read a proclamation signed in October by Gov. Steve Beshear proclaiming Nov. 2-8 to be Individuals with Disabilities Week in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

The event was one more milestone in a crusade by Cartmell special education teacher Amy Hewitt to elevate awareness locally and nationwide of the trials, tribulations and hard work and accomplishments of people living with disabilities.

Speaking from a podium to the 300-plus students, staff and faculty lining the lawn in front of the Capitol, Hewitt said she got the idea for promoting disability awareness from reading about Motorcycle Awareness Week, which is in May each year.

She asked Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson to issue a countywide proclamation two years ago. Last year, she organized a Disabilities Awareness Week walk in Carrollton, which raised $2,000. This year’s walk begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at Millie’s Total Fitness and ends at Point Park.

Hewitt said she started petitioning for a statewide celebration two years ago, and found success when Beshear took office earlier this year, but not after overcoming a major glitch: a Disabilities Awareness Week had already  been established in Kentucky, but as far as Hewitt could tell, was not being celebrated.

The statewide proclamation was renamed Individuals with Disabilities Week.

And Hewitt has vowed not to stop there. Her goal is to establish the awareness week nationwide. “How could I stop, when it needed to affect the whole state and the whole world?”

Hewitt said her dedication to the cause comes from a friendship she developed in high school with classmate Ricky Sandusky, whose mother, Tammy Sandusky, fought tirelessly for his rights.

Sandusky, who died of cancer at 40 in 2005, “inspired me to become a special education teacher,” Hewitt told the crowd. “I know Tammy would be extremely proud of our achievement.”

Prior to Hewitt, Tomlinson told the crowd that he supports the cause because so many people are touched by others with disabilities. Tomlinson said his father was disabled, as is brother-in-law and now his grandson, Nick Isaacs, who lost part of his leg in an industrial accident earlier this year.

“We need to level the playing field for all people who have these challenges,” Tomlinson said. “I see the need to do everything we can to help those with physical challenges.”

Tomlinson said the county is working to build a handicapped-accessible fishing pier at General Butler State Resort Park.

Tomlinson also asked everyone to take a moment to keep the family and friends of Carrollton resident Jim Montgomery in their thoughts, too. Montgomery, who died Friday, Oct. 31, was head of maintenance at Easter Seals’ Camp Kysoc in the 1960a and was central to making the camp’s facilities accessible to handicapped children attending camp there, Tomlinson said.

Mr. Montgomery’s obituary appears on Page 6 of this issue.

Also speaking Monday were Jim Ebert, current director at Camp Kysoc, who praised Hewitt for her work with the disabled.

A portion of the funding raised by the DAW walk last year was donated to help fund Ebert’s effort in October to take paraplegic Sarah Service hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

“Without the $1,000 from Amy’s group, Sarah would never have had that opportunity,” Ebert said. He said he hopes that trip, and another planned later this month, “will open the door for hundreds of other people who want to see the bottom of the Grand Canyon ... people who never before could visit the most famous national park.”

Beverly Service, Sarah’s mother, told the crowd that her daughter is “one of 800,000 people here in Kentucky with a disability ... that’s over 20 percent of Kentucky’s population. That means everyone here knows someone with a disability. These people are working hard against obstacles.”

Margaret Walker, special education teacher at Carroll County High School and co-coordinator with Hewitt of the county’s Special Olympics program, also thanked Hewitt for her work.

“A lot of the money raised by DAW pays for the costs to go on trips to state tournaments and area games,” Walker said. “It pays for hotel costs, gas costs, food and sometimes registration fees.”

As for the proclamation, “I’m so happy she’s done this,” Walker said. “It makes me so proud as someone who has worked with disabled children as long as I have.”