“When you use a wheelchair, how do you go to the bathroom?” “Do you ever get teased or bullied?” “Can I catch what you have?”
These are the questions kids ask when the colourful, life-sized puppets of Kids on the Block Disability Awareness program come to their school.
The Kids on the Block, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is a volunteer troupe that travels to Toronto schools to raise awareness of differences such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hearing loss, spina bifida, ADHD and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
“Kids really open up to puppets,” says Kirsten Sixt, a program director for Kids on the Block in Toronto. Whereas kids in a classroom might shy away from asking a disabled child a personal question, they feel comfortable asking the puppets. “The questions are the meat of our program. With the questions we are able to dispel myths and misconceptions about these medical conditions or physical disabilities and promote friendship, inclusion, sensitivity and awareness.”
Kids on the Block relies on an enthusiastic team of 13 volunteers from all walks of life, who are trained in Bun Raku Puppetry. The puppets all have a disability or medical condition. For instance, Mandy is deaf and talks about lip reading, Brian has epilepsy and explains what it’s like to have a seizure, and Valerie is a cheerleader who uses crutches.
The first Kid on the Block was a puppet with cerebral palsy named Mark Riley, who went to school in a wheelchair.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Kids on the Block is having a fundraiser at Second City Comedy Show, June 1, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $35 (tax receipt available for $20). For ticket information, call 416-964-9095.