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PACER puppets immigrate to England

Summer 2006

Visitor from England bonds with puppet SallyPACER’s Count Me In puppets usually talk “Minnesotan” when they teach elementary school students about including children with disabilities. For a new troupe of the puppets, however, British accents are the rule.

Relationships often develop for PACER via visits to its Web site at That was the case with PACER and Special Abilities, an organization located in Wakefield, England, and home to the newest Count Me In puppets.

Similar to what PACER does in America, Special Abilities provides information and support for parents of children with disabilities across the United Kingdom. Gillian Archbold is the director and the parent of an adult daughter, Sabrina, who has cerebral palsy. Gillian founded Special Abilities in 1999 and spearheaded the PACER connection.

PACER's Gloria Williams helped a new puppeteer make adjustmentsLike PACER, Special Abilities has a goal of removing barriers for people with disabilities. It wants to promote inclusion in a way that makes an impact, Archbold said. Using puppets had been mentioned, but the board and staff didn’t know where to start. Then Archbold spotted information about Count Me In on the Web. She sent an e-mail to PACER, and Gloria Williams of Count Me In quickly responded.

“The e-mail was so welcoming, I was encouraged to learn more,” said Archbold.

The exchanges continued. Soon Special Abilities purchased a set of puppets and scripts. It also sent a delegation to PACER for training—a major undertaking for the English organization. Archbold realized the risk in making a large purchase sight unseen and committing seven staff and board members to an intercontinental journey, she said.

Visitor from England works with puppet Gina“I had no doubts, though, when I met the people at PACER and saw the puppets,” she said. “I knew instantly it would be good.”

PACER puppet coordinator Lynn Dennis felt good, too, she said.

“They were such an enthusiastic and dedicated group, and it was such fun to see the puppets come alive in their hands!” she said.

The Brits evaluated the training with an overall “Excellent” score. In addition, one new puppeteer responded that what was most helpful was “knowing simply that such an exemplary organization [PACER] exists in the world.”

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