Her passion for individual attention and dedication to providing everyone a chance to lead active and healthy lives led Lauren Lieberman, PhD to a career in Adapted Physical Education. But it’s her passion for hands-on learning and teaching that puts a very human touch to her work with students with special needs.
Students of Dr. Lieberman quickly learn the importance of fieldwork and real-life experience when teaching students with special needs. “We all know you can’t learn to teach kids with visual impairment from a book or simulation,” she says. “You have to teach kids with visual impairment.”
And Dr. Lieberman knows what she is talking about. When she arrived at the College, she had already done years of graduate work with the deaf and blind populations. And it was her deep desire to bring practical learning to future teachers that helped give birth to Camp Abilities, a place where children and adolescents with visual and other disabilities are empowered to become active and more productive by participating in sports and activities.
“We received some money and started Camp Abilities my first year,” she says. “It really fulfilled the need for kids with visual impairments to be physically active, and it fulfilled the need for our students to have that one-on-one experience. It’s actually long-term experience, because it’s a whole week working with a child with a visual impairment. Our students leave saying, I know how to teach a kid with visual impairment, because they’ve experienced it.
According to Dr. Lieberman, knowing how to teach students with special needs is critical for all teachers. “Truly all good physical education is adapted physical education,” she says. “Our kids don’t grow up in homogeneity. They’re not all the same. Even if a child doesn’t have a disability, they might have a weakness in motor skills or balance—and they could be in the same class with students who are gifted in that particular area. You really have to teach to individuals.”
It is one of the reasons she feels at home at Brockport. “We’re very fortunate that we have the most faculty in the country with backgrounds in Adapted Physical Education,” she says. “So many of our faculty have backgrounds and skills in it, that they’ve fused it into other classes. So students are truly getting a universal approach to teaching here. We have practicums for autism, for kids who use wheelchairs, for kids with multiple disabilities, for kids with visual impairments and more. Our students leave here with an array of experience with different disabilities.
A published scholar herself, Dr. Lieberman points to innovations and research happening at Brockport that is changing the world of Adapted Physical Education. “I think what our students and programs do here—developing research, text books, and physical activity programs—is changing the face of physical disabilities. Where people might have previously thought, Oh, that poor person who is sedentary and blind, now looks at a person with visual impairments and understands they might be able to run a marathon, or ride a bike, or hike a mountain, in part because of the work we’ve been doing here.”