When disability really doesn’t matter

I worked in a brilliant school today, and delivered disability awareness training to two classes of children, who probably taught me a lot more than I taught them. Often when I begin the first of the two week sessions, the kids don’t know what to expect and are very quiet and shy. They become more involved during the class, and the more we discuss different types of disabilities, the more they realise how many people they know who have one. Petting O J towards the end of the class is the icebreaker, and by the time I return the following week, they are usually talkative and full of questions. Its a lovely transformation to watch.

Today’s classes were different. The children were on the same level as me right from the beginning, eager to learn but just as eager to tell me about their own experiences. I’d much prefer them to talk more than me, and they always have lots to say.
The first group of children talked about different types of disabilities. Their teacher asked them if they knew people who had any, and they listed family members, friends, friends of families, neighbours, friends of neighbours, the neighbour’s dog, etc. He then reminded them that they forgot to look closer. Their own school has a few children with obvious disabilities. Clearly they see these people as friends first and its possible that they sometimes even forget that they have a disability. Of course people shouldn’t be encouraged to ignore their disability or act like it doesn’t exist, but the fact that it isn’t the most important part of a child’s personality is great. That’s proper integration if you ask me!

The second class I visited had first-hand experience of people with disabilities. The two special needs assistants sat at one side of the room while their students sat at the opposite side, working independently just like their classmates. One of the children had developed a physical disability through illness, and spoke openly about how it affected him. He is a great sportsman and seems to have a very positive attitude. The other child had a hearing impairment and used a cochlear implant. Hearing loss is something I always talk about but its something I don’t have much hands-on experience of, so it was fantastic to be able to learn more directly from a child. I wore a headset connected to the loop system so that he could hear me speaking. He described how it works, how himself and his parents, (who are both deaf) communicate, and even asked if I wanted to touch the piece connected to his ear.

Both children were able to confidently talk about their experience of disability. It was an important part of their lives but not the most important part of their class, and they weren’t treated any differently. This positive confident attitude doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from their parents/guardians, families, teachers, classmates, friends and people in the community around them. These nine and ten year-old children make me feel more confident that the future for people with disabilities might be a great one. I left the school feeling like I had learned a lot just by being there. I’m really looking forward to returning next week. The positive feeling of integration in the classroom is brilliant to watch, and the teachers were just as enthusiastic as the children.

My good mood for the day continued when I got a phone call from a friend to say that A local restaurant had found “lost property” belonging to me. It turns out that it was a handbag with the harddrive that I lost last August and was sure I would never see again.
What a brilliant day 🙂

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13 thoughts on “When disability really doesn’t matter

  1. Hi Y'all,Great post. Very enlightening. What a wonderful way to help children, who can be so cruel to anyone with a disability, understand "therefore, but for the grace of God, go I". Even eye glasses can be an issue. BrownDog's Human

  2. If we teach our children young, to accept and love and look for the good, they sure to adapt well. Children teach me so much and make me try harder, work smarter and be more positive. Sounds like a great experience!

  3. What a great experience and important lessons learned. Agree, awesome that they saw their friends as friends first. I used to do this so much more when my kids were younger – reading this really makes me miss it!

  4. At times i didn't even want to be talking about disabilities because I felt like I was making it a bigger issue in their classrooms than it needed to be. Luckily i will be working in this school for a while so can see how the older classes deal with the issue as well.

  5. What a terrific post and a great experience. Those kids are to be admired but not in any sort of patronising or condescending way. They all see each other as equals and that is something that is a big thing with me. That is a result of children being properly intergrated with each other. I love reading stuff like this as it just proves to me how its all worth it having kids of mixed abilities educated together in their normal setting. Anyway, sorry for my ranting here but sounds like you had a terrific day and well, I did also but thats something I won't be talking about just yet.

  6. Hello, I've been reading your posts for a while and find them interesting. I'm legally blind and own a guide dog as well. This post really caught my attention as I would love to do something similiar and educate children in junior and primary school on disabilities. Can you give me any advice on how to get started on this as I've never volunteered anywhere before? Thanks a lot 🙂

  7. Awww that's class. I really hope for these kids that their positive experiences in a mainstream school continues. Kids are really awesome.Parents deffinetly help.I just love how kids don't care. Yeah other kids question you, but it's never nasty.Xxx. Oh while walking past little bros school yesterday two kids were like "look at that guide dog. You're not allowed to pet it". Of course i couldn't just walk on so let them have a sneaky pet :).

  8. Hi there from Canada! I am a new blogger and write about my adventures as a dog walker and boarding dogs when families go away.I write about interesting dogs and people I have met in my life and love the creative process! I met another woman in the States with her blog on line. You had her as a guest author her name is L squared and her guide dog is Jack. I would love to high light both of your blogs in an up and coming post! I have received over 2,000 page views since starting in Jan.2012.I am in over ten US States and in most of our Canadian Provinces.I have readers In Ireland,Paris,Scotland and the Netherlands too :)I would love for you to read my blog posts there are 25 plus so far on a variety of topics. I wrote about a friend who is fostering a guide dog her in Toronto in my neighborhood.The blog was titled a Gift called Rupert.My blog can be found at http://dogstwentyfourseven.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/my-life-as-a-dog-walker-2 I would love to hear from you!Becky White. Your blog is terrific and I will be following!

  9. Hi! Thanks for the lovely comment, and thanks for reading my blog. I'll definitely check out yours, it sounds like something I would really enjoy reading. Maybe I'll have you as a guest blogger sometime 🙂

  10. Thanks Beth! I just saw 'long time no see' listed on the RNIB's list of new books to read from their library. Very cool! Even better that I was the first to read it 🙂

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