Puppet teaches fire cadets about people with disabilities

DECATUR – Spencer Goodwin wears a Superman ball cap, jeans and a denim jacket as he sits in his specially made wheelchair to teach children about people who have disabilities.

Spencer makes other children laugh when he refuses to talk about his math grade or confesses he kissed one of his three girlfriends and got himself in trouble with the teacher.

Spencer is a puppet, and his voice actually belongs to his “mom,” Jan Goodwin, a professional ventriloquist from Alton.

Her goal is to teach children, and sometimes adults, that people with disabilities are just people, who are entitled to equal access and, most especially, kind treatment. Instead of staring at or avoiding a person with a Disability, she said through Spencer, talk to him. Make friends. Don’t make assumptions.

“I’m not a spinal cord injury,” Spencer said to fire cadets at Durfee Magnet School on Tuesday. “I’m a kid with a spinal cord injury.”

Goodwin’s husband, Dick, uses a wheelchair due to a spinal injury from a car accident when he was 21.

Ever since the accident, Goodwin said, he’s served as an advocate for disability issues. Since his retirement, he often accompanies his wife when she gives presentations. Before retirement, he was the founder of an organization that promoted accessibility in their community.

“I had been a ventriloquist in my church and in other activities,” Jan Goodwin said. “I decided that would be a great way to reach kids and educate them. I’ve learned a lot from Dick, being married to him and seeing what he faced with his disabilities.”

Fire Marshal Lyle Meador met Jan Goodwin at a ventriloquist convention in Fort Mitchell, Ky. Meador gives fire safety presentations with puppets and also is a ventriloquist.

By VALERIE WELLS – Herald & Review Staff Write
Valerie Wells can be reached at or 421-7982.

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