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This website is dedicated to promoting inclusive schooling and exploring positive ways of supporting students with autism and other disabilities. Most of my work involves collaborating with schools to create environments, lessons, and experiences that are inclusive, respectful, and accessible for all learners.

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Flashback Friday: Take off the blindfold

Posted on January 10, 2014 in Inclusion, News

From Section 1, idea #3 of Don’t We Already Do Inclusion?

Inclusive schools are not just places where we educate students with and without disabilities. In the best of circumstances, they are places where we inspire learners to think differently about ability. Disability awareness lessons done right can help teachers do this. Unfortunately, most disability awareness activities are not done right.

When most awareness activities are planned, they focus on simulations (e.g., letting students spend time in a wheelchair, blindfolding students to let them “experience” blindness) or on information about disability categories. If you really want to strengthen your inclusive school, however, consider a different approach to disability awareness that illuminates exclusions, social constructions of disability, and bias.

For instance, in April of 2012, Arla Jan Wilson’s story of her son’s exclusion from a high school choir concert went viral and created a stir of debate and discussion not only in the disability rights communities but in many circles. Alex, a member of his school choir, came to the evening concert to perform, but when the director invited choir members to come forward to sing, Alex could not get on the risers and was only able to propel himself to the side of the stage. His mother snapped a photo of Alex sitting next to one of the risers on the side of the state. The other students are several yards away on a center riser singing away. To really appreciate how shocking this exclusion was, do a Google search to see both the coverage of the story and the photograph.

If you do this search, you will see that in most stories written about the event, the teacher who failed to bring Alex into the group was the object of scorn. The question, I had, however, was, “How had the school community as a whole let this happen?” Surely, someone in the audience noticed that Alex was not with his peers and that the choir had started singing without him. Not one parent stood up to object? No other teacher noticed and thought to interrupt? Did any school choir member realize they were missing a performer? This is exactly the kind of story I would want to share with students in a conversation about “disability awareness”. It is fine, of course, to have them learn about individual differences, but it is most powerful to do so in a social justice framework.

Some ideas for doing disability awareness in a more enlightened way are to:

  • have students talk to adults with disabilities about the experience of exclusion and explore solutions to exclusion and barriers
  • have willing students with disabilities speak on a panel about creating welcoming schools and communities
  • ask students to tour their own school and look for accessibility problems
  • ask students to review school programs, events, and activities and assess how inclusive they are
  • do a book discussion on a biography of a self-advocate
  • examine laws related to disability rights

What kinds of disability awareness activities have you used at your school? Are there other activities you might incorporate to make the lessons more respectful or meaningful?

Comments

  1. From Kathy G on 7 May 2014

    Hi Paula, can you recheck the link (Disability Studies for Teachers)as I can’t get it to work?!

  2. From Paula Kluth on 7 May 2014

    Unfortunately, it looks like this site listed in the original post is no longer operational. Sorry about that, and I have updated to post to remove the bad link.

  3. From Elise Hopkins on 29 Jul 2014

    Wow!! Amazing ideas. Sometimes we shy away from things like this because of fear that they would be awkward, but they have the absolute highest potential impact. So grateful for your ideas to maximize the impact of disability awareness activities. I can’t wait to try them! And I will definitely pass them along to the trainers at Kids Included Together. Thanks, Paula!