Former NFL superstar Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda brought a message of understanding and inclusion for people with disabilities to enthusiastic Inland students.
“There is nobody that has inspired me to be more and to do more than my son,” Warner said Friday, March 27, during an assembly at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale. “My son deals with a disability every day.”
Zachary Warner, Warner’s adopted son by his marriage to Brenda, suffered major brain damage as an infant when he was dropped by his biological father.
Friday’s assembly was the culmination of Roosevelt’s week-long commemoration of March as Disability Awareness Month, said Jordon Samson, a special education teacher.
Brenda Warner recalled the day she went to high school and saw her son and other special education students sitting by themselves in the cafeteria.
“My son deserves more,” Brenda Warner said. “My son Zack wants to live a full life.”
Through their First is First foundation, the Warners work to raise awareness of the challenges people with disabilities face every day and the need to include them in all aspects of every day life.
Warner, a quarterback, led the St. Louis Rams to victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV in 1999. He was chosen as the game’s MVP.
Consciousness Helps Encourage Equal Respect – known by its acronym CHEER – is part of the Warners’ foundation that gives general education students the chance to see what their school day would be like if they had a disability.
“It gives you a chance to understand what these people are going through,” Kurt Warner said.
At Roosevelt, about 115 students signed up and each spent a day this week living with a hearing, speech or visual disability, with their dominant arm in a sling or using a white board to communicate.
Some spoke of their experiences at the assembly, but none as movingly as 9th-grader Bailey Casas, who spent a day wearing goggles that rendered her blind in one eye and with limited vision in the other. She got around using a white cane.
Bailey stunned the crowd into silence as she told of an encounter in the P.E. dressing room, where she struggled to open her locker. A girl walked by and knocked over her drink and cane.
As she began mopping up the mess, Bailey said: “Hey, don’t you see I have a disability. She just laughed and walked away.”
Breaking the silence, Kurt Warner said, “This is what this is all about.”
The Warners ended the assembly by asking students, “Where do you go from here?”
Kurt Warner said awareness shouldn’t end Friday.
“You need to live today to impact people in the future,” he said. “The impact you have on someone is never forgotten.”
Casas said afterward that her encounter in the dressing room had had a big impact.
“I realized that disabled people go through this every day,” she said.