Plans for the next school year are well underway for the disABILITY Awareness program.  Read on for details about the increasing impact for students across central Indiana.

The Joseph Maley Foundation celebrates 10 years of impact in 2018, but did you know that the disABILITY Awareness program actually began in 1999?  Vivian Maley, Co-Founder and Executive Director, debuted the first disABILITY Awareness program at St. Monica Catholic School, as a way to educate students about individuals with disabilities.  Since then, thousands of students in central Indiana have learned the value of acceptance, respect, and kindness.  The 2017-18 school year is the biggest yet for disABILITY Awareness, with 24 partner schools implementing programming, including ten new schools.

The evolution of disABILITY Awareness is evident in a number of ways, from increases in the number of children served, more volunteers and speakers offering their time and talent, and enhanced curriculum.  Molly Shawhan, Assistant to Programs, remarked on this growth, “This is my second year working with disABILITY Awareness and in these two years alone we have added nearly 10 more schools; spread awareness at much larger schools than we had in the past; expanded our book and video lessons, including adding the Wonder book curriculum.  We’ve also added grade level curriculum and connected with more wonderful speakers and volunteers while collaborating with new organizations.”  Julie Friedman, disABILITY Awareness Director, added, “With additional programming for eighth grade students, we have more ‘kids teaching kids,’ which is a key part of our programming model.”

Implementing a week-long disABILITY Awareness program requires thoughtful planning and preparation.  Speakers and volunteers are an invaluable piece of the coordination puzzle and one that ensures an impactful experience for students and families.  Molly shared, “We are always looking for more volunteers to assist with our ‘hands-on’ activities during the school day, as well as speakers.  The reward of seeing a seventh-grade student feel empowered to talk about his autism with his classmates after hearing our speaker makes the sacrifice of time and talent so worth it.”

Plans for the next school year are well underway for the disABILITY Awareness program.  Julie and her staff are expanding outreach to public schools and larger school systems, while continuing to keep programming educational and exciting for students and faculty.  New speakers will be added to the disABILITY Awareness roster to support programming for students in younger grades.  Additional puppet troupes for Joseph Maley Friends are also on the radar, which will make it easier for more students to see performances by eighth-grade student puppeteers as part of disABILITY Awareness. Without a doubt, the disABILITY Awareness program will continue to break records in 2018.

If you are interested in volunteering with disABILITY Awareness or bringing this program to your school or organization, please contact Director Julie Friedman at

Post written by:

Courtney Basso, Events and Communications Director