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Instructor Brings Disability Awareness Year Round

Jeff Key combines exercise and sports sciences and the Burkhart Transition Academy.

Written by Megan Shudde

October is National Learning Disabilities Awareness month. Texas Tech University recognized disabilities awareness last week (Oct.15-19), hoping to show the students, faculty and staff of Texas Tech that people with disabilities are capable of anything.

Jeff Key, instructor and coordinator of community outreach for the Department of Health, Exercise & Sport Sciences, brings awareness all year long by teaching a fitness class that combines his exercise and sports sciences (ESS) class with the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research Transition Academy for students with autism.

Key said he hopes to break down the fears associated with working with students with disabilities.

“I was fearful of people who were different than me,” said Key. “Then I was exposed to them and realized they were just like me.”

This partnership does not only help students in Key’s ESS class learn how to communicate with students with autism, but helps the students at the Burkhart Transition Academy stay fit and have fun.

Janice Magness, director of the Burkhart Transition Academy, said pairing up with Key has been beneficial to the students she works with and will help them even when they get older.

“People with autism tend to be at a higher risk for obesity after they complete school,” said Magness. “Having this class helps teach them about the importance of physical fitness, which could help prevent that.”

She said the academy’s students love fitness and the interaction with Texas Tech students, including Darrin Moore, senior wide receiver for the Texas Tech Red Raider football team, who was a student in Key’s class last spring.

In the Tuesday/Thursday class, Key takes activities found in a physical education class and adapts them to make the activities more accessible for students with disabilities.

Key recently hosted a Disability Awareness Week event outside of the Texas Tech library, where students could complete an obstacle course in a wheelchair. This event extended the interaction between his ESS students and the students from the transition academy.

Denise San Martin, a senior early-childhood education major from El Paso and a member of Key’s class, said she loves to help the transition academy students, and the Disability Awareness Week events are a great way to involve the rest of the university.

“Helping these students has helped me learn that students with disabilities have limitations but are fully capable,” San Martin said. “They just want to be included.”

For more information on disabilities awareness week and other events visit http://www.depts.ttu.edu/students/sds

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