When I was in school I always felt left out because there was always some activity I couldn’t do. Very rarely were their appropriate modifications so most of the time I just ended up watching my classmates do some fun activity. It finding friends difficult because my classmates always thought I was weird and was the girl that couldn’t do anything! I can do more than you think I can but there are some activities that are just not an option for me. When you don’t include disabled people in almost all activities it makes some abled people think we are helpless and can’t do anything for ourselves. Teaching your abled student a little bit about disability and connecting with your disabled students is super important so today I am going to show you how to do that!
Teach disability etiquette- It is rude to go up to a disabled person and ask them “what is wrong with you.” There is nothing wrong with me I have a disability but there is nothing wrong with me. Sometimes young kids will go up to a disabled person and ask that but as a teacher, you need to teach them that it’s rude to do that. We won’t take it personally if a young kid asks that because they don’t know any better but as they get older it will become a more sensitive subject. Some disabled people are not comfortable talking about their disability and you want to make sure your abled students understand that and respect our boundaries. You are not obligated to know our full medical history and it’s entirely up to the disabled person on what they want to tell you what they don’t.
Make your classroom accessible– One of the biggest barriers I have had in my many years of school is an inaccessible classroom. Inaccessibility leads to not being able to participate in activities that we should be able to and that alone can be stressful Kids will think we are helpless and develop a negative opinion of us if every activity you do with your students we have to sit out of. Make your classroom as accessible as possible so disabled people can participate in the same activities as your abled students. Put things on lower shelves and give students who are full-time wheelchair users more space to move around. One of the most stressful things for full-time wheelchair users are small spaces and that extra space will make all the difference in the world!
Listen to disabled people- Sometimes the best way to know what a disabled person needs is to have a conversation with them and actually listen. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what a disabled person needs if you aren’t disabled. Kids are no exception and still have the right to heard because although they may be young they can still give you some great tips on how you can improve your classroom! There is no harm in hearing someone out because the worst-case scenario is they tell you something crazy and you don’t take their advice.
Don’t put disabled people on the spot- When I volunteered I worked with students that have severe developmental delays. When a disabled student is acting out you want to make sure you discipline them just like you would your abled students so they know what they did was not okay. When I volunteered and had to discipline a student I found that pulling them to the side and talking with them worked better than yelling at them in front of the whole class. Sometimes disabled students will get embarrassed if you put them on the spot like that so they won’t listen. Don’t ignore bad behavior because your students will never learn that way but if you are having trouble getting through to a child pulling them to the side might be a life-saver for you!
Stop doing everything for us- When I was in Pre-k( or kindergarten I can’t remember what grade it actually was) I had a teacher who wanted to do everything for me and to avoid conflict with that teacher my mom told me to tell her that whenever she did something I could do myself to say”I can do that all by myself”. I’m glad my mom did that because if I let that teacher do everything for me I would not be nearly as independent as I am today! If a disabled needs help by all mean to help them but you don’t want to do everything for them because that will make them get lazy and be completely dependent on others. If a disabled person needs help they will ask for it but don’t just go ahead and do something for them. It is really important for a disabled person to be as independent as possible and as a teacher you want to encourage independence!
Disabled students have a really hard time making friends in school and that is mostly because abled people think we are weird and can’t do anything for ourselves. There are many challenges when living with a disability but most disabled people can do a lot for themselves. Teach your abled students that although there are challenges there is nothing wrong with us. Most disabled people can have conversations just like an abled person can and not talking to us because you think we can have a normal conversation is hurtful. Talk to disabled people before you may any hurtful accusations because you may learn that we are not much different than you are. Teachers, how do you connect with your disabled students?