Teaching Disability Awareness and Acceptance

by Amber Russell, Courier & Press, March 31, 2015 – Ridicule — the act of making fun of someone or something in a cruel or harsh way; harsh comments made by people who are laughing at someone or something.

We have all seen someone poke fun at others, and perhaps we’ve even done it ourselves. How often have you said something like, “Listen to the way he talks” or “She is weird”?

As a Youth First School social worker, too often I work with children who have been called names such as “stupid” or “retarded,” or I hear about someone being made fun of because of how they walk, talk or look. Many times the targets are people with disabilities. Young children are often curious and don’t understand people or things that are different from them.

March is Disability Awareness month, which makes it the perfect time to teach kids that people with disabilities are more like us than they are different from us. They have hopes, goals, hobbies, family and friends, fears and anxieties just like everyone else. Use this month to increase your knowledge on disabilities and share the information with your kids.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to get the conversation going:

1. Talk about the Universal Access Symbol and explain that while the symbol is a person in a wheelchair, it really is a symbol for accessibility for people with disabilities. Explain that having a disability does not mean those individuals can’t do things; they may just need accommodations such as a ramp, wheelchair, hearing aide, extra help in school, or a voice activated computer or phone. See how many different places in the community you can identify the symbol.

2. When kids ask questions, try to be positive. For example, stress that hearing aids help others hear and wheelchairs help others move around, instead of using negatives (he can’t hear, she can’t walk, etc.). Your child may see a child who acts out and ask, “Why does that kid always act like that?” This may be a good time to explain how difficult and frustrating it is for kids with autism or other disabilities to communicate. You might tell them that some kids act out or have outbursts because they can’t express what they are thinking and feeling.

3. Visit the book store or library and read books about disabilities with your child. I really like the Special Kids in School series by JayJo Books. They have titles such as “Taking Tourette Syndrome to School” and “Taking Down syndrome to School.” Just ask your local librarian or book store employee for more suggestions.

4. If your child is not into reading, try using the Internet. Use the web to find movies or TV shows that feature characters with a disability or portray what it’s like living with a disability. Research celebrities who are disabled. There are a lot of great websites out there with a vast amount of information. Two of my favorites are: http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/cedir/kidsweb/default.html and http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/awareness.

Finally, remember that your child will model your behaviors. It is important that you model acceptance and inclusion through your own words and actions. Teaching them acceptance is essential for raising a sensitive and kind human being.

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