Commentary: Spreading Disability Awareness

Students across the nation are undertaking activities to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. In Virginia, a group of students recently published a guide for creating inclusive environments for people with disabilities in schools. Here in Chicago, another student organized different disability awareness activities to show what people with disabilities are capable of, and how society can become more inclusive to this community. Both groups hope their projects will further create understanding about the needs of those with disabilities.

I’ve gone to speak at different elementary, junior high and high schools, and each time I am pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful questions students ask! Children wonder how I read, get around and cook without being able to see. Truth is, although adults also find these things intriguing, they might be hesitant to ask. Meanwhile, children will ask without hesitating, and will better understand and learn about disabilities from this experience.

To me, non-disabled children are also more understanding and willing to accept people with disabilities when given a chance to interact with them from a very young age. I experienced this firsthand at school, where more often than not, I was the only child who couldn’t see in my class. I remember going out to recess and playing on the playground equipment with my sighted peers, who didn’t seem to mind my blindness. To them, I was just another peer who happened to be blind, but other than that I was like anyone else. Teaching young children about disabilities will help them better empathize with people with disabilities. As a result, they will focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t.

Disability simulating activities can also go a long way in teaching people about various impairments when done properly. If students put on blindfolds and walk around or do other things without guidance, they will believe it is impossible or that blindness is frightening. On the other hand, if someone, preferably another person who is blind, teaches them about the different tools and techniques to do these things, they will learn that people who are blind or visually impaired can and do adapt successfully to their disability.

Kudos to the students in Chicago and Virginia for their initiatives of promoting disability awareness and inclusion. As individuals with disabilities, we are constantly trying to demonstrate our abilities to society in hopes that more people will look past what we cannot do. These and similar projects are perfect opportunities to show others how important it is to accept and include people with disabilities in the community, school and work. I’m sure these students and their fellow classmates will have a better understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities once they become adults, and this will go a long way in promoting inclusion and awareness.

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