SIMI VALLEY : Students Interview Disabled Official

Simi Valley school board member Carla Kurachi fielded questions about her personal life from a tough audience Monday.

Facing about 300 kindergarten through sixth-grade students, Kurachi, 38, spoke at the private Pinecrest School in Simi Valley about what it's like to go through life in a wheelchair.

Kurachi's spinal cord was cut in a car accident when she was 16, paralyzing her legs and leaving her with only limited use of her hands and arms.

Kurachi explained that living with a disability is "just a matter of doing things differently."

For instance, when her two sons were babies, she had trouble fastening their diapers with her fingers. So she sometimes used her teeth.

"Yuck," some of the boys sitting near the front said, sticking out their tongues.

After Kurachi's short talk, the students fired questions at her.

"When you cook, can you crack eggs?" "How do you go to the bathroom?" "Can you go fishing?"

Kurachi, who is a board member of the Simi Valley Unified School District, said she didn't mind answering the children's sometimes probing questions. Their openness showed that they weren't intimidated by her wheelchair, she said.

"If they had a lot of fears, they would be inhibited to ask those questions," she said.

Kurachi spoke at Pinecrest as part of the school's six-week educational program aimed at helping students feel comfortable with disabled people, School Activities Director Charmane Deas said.

School officials started the program when they realized that students didn't know how to react to people with disabilities, Deas said. "We've gone on field trips and the kids have pointed and made fun of a handicapped person."

Student Kevin Shanahan, 11, said he was impressed by the bravery with which Kurachi "took the accident." If his legs became paralyzed, he said, he wouldn't be able to play football because he wouldn't be able to run.

"It would be weird," Shanahan said.

On April 9, the school will hold a fund-raising assembly for the National Easter Seals Foundation, which helped Pinecrest develop the educational program.

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