Carpenter building students customized desks and chairs
Special needs students are helping Red Deer Public Schools carpenter Lawrence Carlson “think outside the box.”
Carlson is, in turn, assisting disabled students by building them customized desks and chairs that allow them to learn like any other student in the classroom.
“It gets your brain thinking, and you have to use your ingenuity more,” said Carlson, of the custom projects he has created for at least the last 20 of his 28 years as cabinet maker for the school division.
Last year, Carlson was asked to make an adaptable chair for Cole Miller, a kindergarter at G.H. Dawe School. The slope of regular desk chairs just didn’t work for Cole, who has cerebral palsy, and risked sliding right out of them.
Carlson was told the youngster needed a chair back at a right angle to the seat. After consulting with co-workers, he came up with a design for a beautifully made wooden chair.
It features a firm, straight back that he made more comfortable with an attached vinyl cushion, and arm and foot rests.
The seat and back are on adjustable rails, so as Cole grows, so will the chair — Carlson believes it should easily see the student through his elementary school years.
Educational aide Dianne Ames has noticed the “throne”-like seat allows Cole to be more independent and more mobile. As a result, she said, “He can do more on his own,” which makes Cole happy and strengthens his confidence.
The student, who’s now in Grade 1, said he enjoys using the chair, because “I can learn in it,” and it’s comfortable.
His mom, Shauna Simon, believes Cole is more eager to come to school now that he isn’t in pain from sitting at the wrong angle.
The previous chair he received from the hospital wasn’t adequate, admitted Simon, but blueprints she received for a more specialized chair would have been difficult to build.
“I’m a single mom of four kids, and I just couldn’t afford it,” said the Red Deer woman, who is very grateful for Carlson’s help.
Carlson appears visibly uncomfortable whenever talk turns to gratitude. He said the needs of students in Red Deer public schools are the focus of his job.
“I always try to make them feel special . . . Sometimes I don’t get (a project) right the first time, and have to try again. But, I figure, if I’m not helping the student, then I’m not helping anyone.”
Carlson remembers having to ask a young girl to leave class on several occasions so he could re-check the design of a desktop he was making for her wheelchair.
“She said to me, ‘I’m sorry to be such a bother,’” he recalled, “And that just didn’t sit right with me.
“I said, ‘I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. I’m having to take you out of the classroom when you should be learning. You’re never a bother to me.’”
Over the years, Carlson has found fulfilment in creating many kinds of adaptable desks, chairs, and book holders.
One student, with spina bifida, needed a desk she could take into different classrooms, for various options, such as art or drama. Carlson designed two desks on wheels for her.
Another student, with dwarfism, needed help reaching the sink to wash her hands. Since no youngster likes to stand out by depending on special equipment, the student preferred hopping up onto the counter. Carlson understood her reluctance, but had to ask her, “Could you use (the step-stool) for me? I have to make sure you’re safe.”
The student did him the favour of using his step-stool.
Carlson said he usually has least a couple of special needs projects to work on each year, and “some years I can be quite busy.”
But he always welcomes the challenge of having to think outside the typical cabinet box, to make things that help students.