Introduction

Teaching students about disabilities doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it out to be. From a young age, curious children are being sent the wrong message about those who look, think, and act differently from them. Therefore, as they grow up, many don’t know how to interact properly with or treat the disabled. Educating students about different types of disabilities, some of which their peers may have or will have in the future, is extremely beneficial not only to the individual student but also to those with disabilities.

Resources

It can be quite a daunting task to teach students about disabilities. However, it isn’t something you have to do on your own, as there are more resources available on the internet than you may think.

Lesson Plans

  1. Disability Awareness Class Activity Lesson Plans: The HIE Help Center provides a multitude of lesson plans about autism, communication disorders, general disability, hearing impairment, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and vision impairment. The main goal of the creation of these lessons is to help create a more inclusive classroom environment in which each and every child is treated with the proper respect. In learning about different disabilities, students will gain further understanding of what it is like to live with a disability. Each lesson plan provides: an introduction, a list of materials, instructions, a “spotlight” (a notable individual with the particular disability), and a list of sources. Some of these hands-on activities will even give students a chance to somewhat experience what it is like to have a disability.
  2. Disability Awareness Packet: Bev Adcock and Michael L. Remus have created a packet including activities and resources for teaching students about disabilities. Activities about autism, communication disorders, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, vision impairments, and notable people who had/have disabilities. This packet includes many hands-on lessons encouraging students to attempt to experience what it is like to have a disability and discuss their discoveries with the class. At the end of the packet, there is a list of additional resources (adult books, children’s books, television shows, and videos) that can be used to supplement the lessons if desired.
  3. Understanding Disabilities Mini-Lessons: The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools supplies a set of three mini-lessons about perceptions, facts and perceptions, and social inclusion (as it relates to disability) in order to teach students about developing attitudes that are respectful to all students. Each mini-lesson includes: the amount of time required for the lesson, a list of materials, steps, and the desired outcomes. 

Articles

  1. Teaching Disability Awareness to School-Aged Children: Victoria Polanco Ramirez writes a paper about her experience with teaching disability awareness in a first-grade classroom in California. She discusses her method of teaching over the three days of lessons on disabilities and the final results of her project. At the end of her paper, she supplies the resources she utilized in her experiment and the student’s opinions on each of the activities. This paper may give guidance and advice to those who want to teach about disabilities in classes.
  2. nea: Students With Physical Disabilities Speak Out on Challenges in School: Two physically disabled students, Jay and Curtis, speak out on the challenges they have had in school with their disabilities. These challenges range from questions from classmates, inclusion, and assistance from teachers. This resource may be useful to read when teaching students about disabilities because recognizing the struggles of those with disabilities that are so visible (and invisible) is very important in the process of learning about various disabilities. 
  3. 20 Ways to Teach Non-Disabled Kids About Their Disabled Peers: A Day in Our Shoes published a useful article, which recommends various articles and lesson plans for teaching students about disabilities. (Some of the resources may overlap with those provided above or below.) The article is mostly geared towards parents who want to bring disability awareness to their children’s schools, but the resources provided are useful for anyone wanting to teach about disabilities in the classroom!

Informational Sites 

  1. Center for Disability Information & Referral: This interactive informational website gives students the opportunity to learn about disabilities in an enjoyable way. The site is divided into six different sections: the Book Nook, Games Chamber, Famous People, Movies & More, Fun Facts, and the CeDIR Homepage. Students are able to read reviews of books about people with disabilities, play fun games about disabilities, find out about celebrities with disabilities, and more!
  2. Invisible Disabilities: List and General Information: Disabled World published a page about invisible disabilities, which are not always fully recognized in the disability community. This page provides information explaining how some disabilities can be invisible to the human eye and a list of some invisible disabilities, including chronic pain, mental illness, fibromyalgia, lupus, lyme disease, endometriosis, etc. If students or teachers want to learn more about some of these invisible disabilities, Disabled World provides links to pages specifically relating to an individual disability.
  3. Band-Aides and Blackboards: When Chronic Illness … or Some Other Medical Problem … Goes to School: This informational website provides separate content (stories, poetry, letters, art, etc.) for children, teens, and adults on students with chronic illnesses. Cerebral palsy, lupus, scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, and more chronic illnesses are touched upon throughout the website by those who have experienced them firsthand. Students can greatly benefit from the information provided on this website about varying chronic illnesses and the perspectives of kids their age that live with these diseases.

Conclusion

One of the most important things to remember when teaching students about this tough subject is to put an important emphasis on having empathy. Empathy is “the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one’s own” (Psychology Today). Though the majority of students will (hopefully) never be able to fully grasp the true feeling of what it is like to have a disability, they should be encouraged to put themselves in a disabled person’s shoes. Though they’re not easy shoes to fill, considering having a life with a disability may cause students to have more of an overall understanding of the subject and what some around them face each day.

Additional Resources

  1. Understanding Disabilities: Teaching Tolerance provides a lesson plan allowing students to research an assigned disability, discuss the basic facts and main challenges someone with the disability overcomes each day, and learn how to communicate sensitively with someone who has a disability.
  2. Disability 101: Increasing Disability Awareness and Sensitivity: This pdf provides five different lessons regarding disability awareness. The lessons will help students to understand disability, break down stereotypes, and be more sensitive with the way they speak to a person with a disability.
  3. Learning to Give: This website provides various lesson plans about disabilities for students of all ages. Lessons about overcoming disabilities with adaptations, sensitivity and philanthropy, respecting those with disabilities and various cultural backgrounds, and more are accessible through this site.