Falmouth student blazed trail for others to follow

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FALMOUTH — Hannah Gordon is used to being a leader.

Beneath her gentle exterior, the Falmouth High School senior possesses a spirit full of grit and practicality that has helped her overcome obstacles by making her needs known and pushing for change.

Born with cerebral palsy, Gordon, who uses a wheelchair, said she “paved the way all through (her) schooling for people to be more aware of students with disabilities.”

“Before I got here, there wasn’t much set in place to help students – I was the guinea pig,” the 17-year-old said.

It began in elementary school, when Gordon was unable to use the Maze Craze playground, which was torn down last year. She and her mother lobbied for a handicapped accessible play space, resulting in construction of the Kids’ World playground at Lunt School.

But her “guinea pig” status continued even after she entered the newly constructed high school.

“We found all kinds of things that were not accessible and they were fixed as I went along,” Gordon said.

While she said she used to be “starry-eyed” about her mission when she was younger, now Gordon says she looks at it as part of her “unwritten job description.”

“I just do it without thinking: oh, here’s another problem, let’s figure out a way to fix it,” she said.

She made good work of that approach when confronted with physical education requirements in high school. After extensive research and many meetings with school personnel, Gordon earned her PE credit through an individualized program geared to increase her independence by teaching her a method of transferring herself from wheelchair to bed with minimal assistance.

Though she’s played a major part in raising awareness and ensuring the Falmouth schools’ compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,  Gordon is quick to say it is not her disability that has defined her.

“So many people assume because you’re disabled it shapes you in some way,” she said. “For me, it is what it is; I do what I have to do to get along.”

Gordon will graduate with her Falmouth High School class this Sunday, June 14, at 1 p.m. in the school’s gymnasium. In the fall she will begin her degree requirements in English at the University of Southern Maine, living at home while taking a full course load.

An English major was a natural choice for Gordon, who likes to read and write. She’s been asked if she intends to become a writer; so far, she is quite protective of her writing, saying “it’s private stuff.” But she has shared a few of her works in the school’s literary magazine.

While she said she’s looking forward to college, she also confessed to some apprehension about being on her own.

“I always have people around me – parents, teachers, friends,” Gordon said. “Now the time to go out in the world is closer and I get really nervous – how am I going to  get along?”

But the same determination that has fueled Gordon’s trailblazing through her years in the Falmouth schools is sure to propel her as she tackles new and greater challenges in the years ahead.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.


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Hannah 3.jpgHannah Gordon has been an advocate for accessibility, educating the Falmouth schools and her classmates about the importance of making the total learning experience achievable by all. Gordon and the rest of the Falmouth High School Class of 2009 will graduate on Sunday, June 14. (Roberts photo)