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Eighty-Year-Old Advises Schools on Engaging Disabled Pupils

Last week, I attended Civic Ventures' annual Purpose Prize award ceremony in Philadelphia, where $50,000 and 100,000 prizes were given to over-60 Americans who have embarked on new "social purpose" careers.

One winner, Donald Stedman, who is nearly 80 years old and based in Durham, N.C., has made it his new business to advise schools on the best ways to engage seriously disabled students. After a career as a clincial psychologist, five years ago, in his mid-70s, he launched New Voices to help young people with extreme mobility and communicative disabilities get good educations in public schools.

Some of these children have active minds, even though they cannot speak or move, according to Stedman. He calls them "low-incidence, high-impact children," because their disabilities are complicated and expensive, draining both emotional and financial resources.

"It's very easy for a kid to go into a classroom with someone who knows them and can assist them," Stedman said. "The problem is coordinating the assets they need, because it's a subject few people are willing to talk about. I want to make this subject less taboo and create a model that could be a beacon for others trying to help similar children."

Today New Voices' mostly volunteer staff counsels schools on the best strategies to engage disabled students, then helps to assess technological and teacher training needs. The organization has trained more than 50 teachers in four school districts and plans to hold a training conference in the fall.

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