Dedicated advocates across the country routinely present disability awareness workshops to audiences of students, community members, and others. Their efforts are an attempt to educate others about people with disabilities, in order to decrease discrimination and/or create a positive environment for an individual with a disability in a new classroom, a new job, and so forth. While these are noble efforts, they don’t always achieve the intended outcomes. In fact, they can sometimes generate unintended and negative consequences. We can, however, achieve improved outcomes. But first, let’s take a closer look at the flaws in traditional disability awareness techniques.
One well-known method of educating children involves using puppets or dolls that are supposed to represent children with a variety of different disabilities. I’ve seen dolls who “use” wheelchairs, crutches, and other assistive devices; puppets with a missing arm or leg; and dolls who have facial characteristics representing children with Down syndrome. This approach is founded on the belief that since children play with puppets/dolls, these props will hold a child’s interest and provide an appropriate teaching tool for the speaker.
But . . . would it be appropriate, for example, to use “black dolls” to teach “white” children about African-American children? Would it be respectful to use “Indian puppets” to educate children about Native American people? Or what about using girl dolls to teach “female awareness” to boys? Click here to continue.
Disability Awareness vs. Similarity Awareness
Instead of promoting an understanding what it’s really like to have a disability, simulations frequently perpetuate negative reactions ("Wow! I’m glad I’m not like that!") that reflect pity, sadness, superiority, and/or even greater misunderstanding.
New Ways of Thinking and Revolutionary Common Sense