by Ana Paula Villarreal
As teachers and parents, we have the opportunity to change the world by educating the children who will become its leaders. Given such an enormous responsibility, we need to reflect carefully about the kind of individuals our world needs. Looking at discrimination worldwide, many would agree that our planet needs people who respect, understand and love each other regardless of difference. This development of acceptance of others is nurtured since childhood. As teachers/parents, we’ve been given the opportunity to shape our children to value others as equal and worthy. One way we can do this is by talking about disability with our children.
People with disabilities are often considered as unfortunate, as suffering, as victims of an unlucky circumstance, as ‘them’ and not ‘us’. These inaccurate ideas are hurtful and eventually lead to discriminatory attitudes. As adults with a crucial role in shaping tomorrow’s world, we should expand our mindsets and begin to see that disability is as natural as any one of our individual characteristics. When we understand a disability is just another difference, we can cooperate to minimize barriers that make it harder for everyone to participate. For example, a person with a wheelchair has nothing wrong with them, but struggles to participate in a world that doesn’t always consider building ramps and elevators for equal access. As a society, we have the obligation to fix physical and attitude barriers to minimize limitations. Inclusive societies are those that realize that some individuals are more disabled by the prejudice, inaccessibility, or lack of support they face than by their own personal circumstances. This is where our role as teachers and parents becomes essential. We need to talk about differences openly, to address inequality, and we need to understand disability as an “us” and not a ‘them’ thing.
With the goal of educating our community to be truly inclusive and accessible, talking with our children openly about disability is important. The following are some guidelines that can help you when talking about disability in the classroom or at home:
- Use positive language.
- Avoid saying there is something ‘wrong’, or language that presents a person with a disability as suffering or unlucky.
- Clarify misconceptions. Let your child know asking questions is okay.
- Present disabilities as differences between individuals.
- Talk about how all of us have certain strengths and some needs.
- Emphasize the fact that each individual’s characteristics make him special.
- Re-phrase and re-direct your child’s negative comments.
- Encourage your child to act as an advocate for inclusion and discuss how to do this.
- Read some books that concern diversity. (Some book recommendations below!)
When children are exposed to differences as they grow up and are educated about the value of uniqueness, they turn into leaders with a deeper understanding of human diversity. Having a conversation about disability is our responsibility in creating a more inclusive tomorrow.
Some Book Recommendations:
- What I like About Me! A book Celebrating Differences by Allia Zobel-Nolan
- We’re Different, We’re the Same and We’re all Wonderful! by Sesame Street
- What are your Superpowers? by Marget Wincent
- Celebrate you! Celebrate Me! by Sesame Street
- You be You by Linda Kranz
- I’m Like You, You’re Like Me by Cindy Gainer
- We’re all Wonders by RJ Palacio
- Normal Norman by Tara Lazar
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrede
- Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
- Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
- Brontorina by James Howe