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Nancy Liesse, a hearing impaired teacher, helps Christopher, an 11-year-old developmentally disabled student at Lighted Way, play with a new “I Can Sign” doll. The Peru Lions club donated six of the dolls that have fingers that can be manipulated into sign language positions. NewsTribune photo/Matthew Baker
A group of six dolls were sitting on children’s chairs in the corner of a room at the Lighted Way, but as soon as Christopher saw them they became the center of attention.
Christopher, an 11-year-old developmentally disabled student at Lighted Way, rushed to the dolls — some boys, some girls, some rabbits, all with articulated, human-like fingers — and began playing with one.
“This is an exciting motivator for him,” said Nancy Liesse, a hearing impaired teacher who works with various schools in the area through the LEASE cooperative. Liesse said Christopher has only been signing consistently for about a year. These new “I Can Sign” dolls will provide new opportunities to teach sign language to him and others at Lighted Way and other schools.
The dolls donated by the Peru Lions club have fingers that can be manipulated into sign language positions, allowing teachers to show students how to position their fingers.
Also the dolls, which have removable clothing, can be used to teach students various vocabulary lessons, Liesse said.
The dolls also are wearing hearing aids, which Liesse said can help build self-esteem among children with hearing disabilities because they have the opportunity to see dolls that look more like them.
Regular education students also will get the opportunity to use some of the dolls when Liesse visits other schools. Not only will the dolls be used to teach those students sign language, they may help those students gain a better understanding and appreciation for their disabled peers, she said.
“This is one of the ways we’re giving back to the community is through the signing dolls,” said Rich Hafley, the Lions club member who led the effort to get the dolls to the school.
In 1925, Helen Keller challenged the Lions International organization to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Since then the organization has expanded its focus to help people with other disabilities, as well, Hafley said. The Peru Lions’ biggest fundraisers are hosting Sundays at Casino Bingo on Plank Road, as well as their candy day and sales of candies at restaurants, businesses, etc.
The Lions meet at 6 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month in the Peru Municipal Building, Fourth and Fulton streets.
Matthew Baker can be reached at (815) 220-6933, or lasallereporter @newstrib.com.
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