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Elena Angst, 14, laughs as she struggles to get around in a wheelchair at Hart Middle School in Pleasanton on Feb. 27, 2013. Students were given the opportunity to try out some wheelchairs on campus as part of a districtwide fundraiser for the Rotary Club and the Wheelchair Foundation.

PLEASANTON -- Robbie Brumm has newfound empathy for the disabled after spending a day rolling around school in a wheelchair.

"It was a little more work than I expected," the 14-year-old said. "You have a different perspective in a wheelchair. Everyone else is able to walk around, but you're not. Toward the end of the day, I wanted to walk because it was so slow getting around."

Brumm was among 42 Hart Middle School students who spent at least half a school day using a wheelchair to get a feel for how disabled people live.

"It lets students experience life in a different way," leadership teacher Stacy Webb said. "They'll learn that it's not easy getting around. It's good to have the experience of feeling different and the difficulty of getting around."

Hart students took part in the three-day wheelchair exercise as part of the school district's campaign to raise money for the Danville-based Wheelchair Foundation. The nonprofit group raises funds to provide wheelchairs for disadvantaged people around the world.

"The district goal is to raise $42,000," Webb said. "That would buy a crate of wheelchairs or 280 wheelchairs. We're going to send them all to Guatemala."

When the foundation offered to loan wheelchairs for students to use, Webb jumped at the chance.

"It will raise awareness," she said. "Any time we don't understand something, we tend to joke about it or make fun of it. Hopefully, it will help students understand the situation a little more and be more compassionate about what people in wheelchairs go through every day."

Eighth-grader Lekha Kesavan signed up to ride in a wheelchair all day to experience life on wheels.

"I wanted to know what people in wheelchairs have to deal with every day," the 13-year-old said. "I was surprised at how dependent I was, especially in the tight aisles in the classroom. It was really hard to push myself. I wasn't expecting it to be that much trouble. I realized how tough it was to roll myself and to turn."

"After a while, my arms got sore," eighth-grader Elena Angst added. "By the end of the day, I figured out ways to maneuver better. It was a good experience."

The students admitted they often relied on the kindness of classmates for a friendly push and help getting around campus.

"Now that I know what they have to go through, I understand more," Kesavan said. "I learned how much trouble it is for the disabled to move every day."

WHEELCHAIR FOUNDATION
To make sure Hart Middle School and the Pleasanton school district get credit for donations, write "Hart Middle School" when asked "How did you hear about Wheelchair Foundation?"
Details: http://www.wheelchairfoundation.org