What better day than today to publish this post! Today is the first day of Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. Disability Awareness Activities are so important to foster understanding.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

We’re not quite there yet, are we? As far as teaching non-disabled children about their disabled peers?

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disability awareness

According to the US Department of Education, 15-20% of our school children have IEPs. Why are we not teaching kids about disabilities on a regular basis? We owe it to our kids, both the non-disabled and disabled ones.

They have to learn how to interact, how to live and work together. This is their future.

Get the list: Amazing Inclusion Books for Kids

Disability Awareness Month Activities

March and April are here. Disabilities Awareness Month and Autism Awareness Month. Both are great months and great conversation starters to start to share with the rest of the world how great our kids are.

Teaching kids about disabilities isn’t that hard. It is important that we engage the actual disabled people in explaining disabilities to students. They should be the ones to determine the message conveyed.

Our kids need to develop friendships and some barriers to that are non-disabled kids being fearful of disabilities. Awareness can lead to acceptance. And those acquaintances can turn into friends.

Depositphotos 158332000 XL

Activities to Teach about Disabilities

I am proud to say that I approached my non-disabled child’s preschool and asked her to include this in the upcoming months. Teaching preschoolers about disabilities is an opportunity not to be missed.

Create understanding now when kids are young to avoid bullying and fear later. We met, we chatted online, and they are doing it!

His school does a bunch of MLK Day activities, and about people who are different from you. And, in February they do a whole thing on love and friendships and it will be discussed then.

She (the preschool director) then shared with me a book she found in their library that they are going to use, and the whole thing inspired this post. {note, this post is frequently updated, he’s not in preschool anymore!}

So here you go, not only do you approach your school or church or scout troop and say “I’d like to encourage you to teach kids about kids with disabilities, and I will help if you’d like” but now you have some resources to send to them as well.

Note, this is about teaching inclusion and teaching acceptance, and tolerance. This is not a teaching strategy for an inclusive classroom. This is to answer questions that kids may have about other kids who are different.

Understanding is the first step and it’s OK for kids to be curious.

So here you go, I combed the web and found many printables and downloads, and websites for you to use. I did not create any of these, merely sharing them.

There are numerous disability awareness activities that can be employed to increase understanding, empathy, and inclusivity. Here are some examples:

  1. Storytelling Circles: Arrange storytelling sessions where individuals with disabilities share their personal stories and experiences. This could be in the form of spoken word, poetry, or written narratives. Participants can listen actively and engage in discussions afterward to gain insights into the diverse perspectives and lived realities of people with disabilities.
  2. Panel Discussions and Guest Speakers: Invite individuals with disabilities to speak about their experiences, challenges, and achievements. Panel discussions can provide insights into various aspects of living with a disability and encourage dialogue.
  3. Accessible Tours or Activities: Organize tours or activities specifically designed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. This can include visits to museums with tactile exhibits, wheelchair-accessible nature trails, or sensory-friendly events.
  4. Awareness Workshops: Conduct workshops focusing on disability awareness, accessibility, and inclusive language. These workshops can cover topics such as communication tips, understanding different types of disabilities, and creating inclusive environments.
  5. Film Screenings and Discussions: Screen films or documentaries that portray the lives of individuals with disabilities. Follow up with discussions to explore themes, stereotypes, and challenges depicted in the media.
  6. First Person Activities: Many disabled people have YouTube channels and social media accounts where they share their experiences of marginalization in society. Accessibility is something many of us take for granted and students will find it interesting to watch someone go to a public place and not be able to enter.
  7. Accessibility Audits: Conduct accessibility audits of public spaces, workplaces, or educational institutions. Identify barriers to accessibility and work towards implementing solutions to make these spaces more inclusive for everyone.
  8. Disability Awareness Campaigns: Organize campaigns or events to raise awareness about specific disabilities or issues related to disability rights and inclusion. This can include social media campaigns, awareness walks, or community outreach programs.
  9. Collaborative Projects: Engage in collaborative projects with disability advocacy organizations or individuals with disabilities. This can involve creating art, writing, or multimedia projects that highlight diverse perspectives and experiences.
  10. Interactive Workshops: Develop interactive workshops that address common misconceptions about disabilities and provide practical strategies for promoting inclusion and accessibility in various settings.
  11. Inclusive Sports and Recreation: Organize sports or recreational activities that are inclusive of individuals with disabilities. This can help promote physical fitness, teamwork, and social inclusion among people of all abilities.
  12. Accessible Technology Demonstrations: Showcase accessible technologies and assistive devices that can enhance the independence and quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Provide hands-on demonstrations and training sessions.

These activities can be tailored to different audiences and settings to promote awareness, understanding, and acceptance of disability diversity. It’s important to approach disability awareness with sensitivity, respect, and a commitment to fostering inclusivity in all aspects of society.

Two boys hugging at a table while engaging in disability awareness activities with blocks.

Teaching Students about Disabilities

When readers find this post, I am often asked about disability awareness activities for adults. Definitely needed! I hear you. But I was unable to find any disability awareness activities for adults, so you may want to adapt these to an older audience. I know it is very needed in the workplace.

  1. Disability Awareness Packet (note: This packet is good, but it contains some outdated language and concepts. It contains the phrase “mental retardation” because that is the language used then. Adapt to modern philosophy as appropriate)
  2. Learning About Disabilities- from Teaching Tolerance; different disability lesson plans for different age groups.
  3. Hasbro recently came out with some pretty cool stuff to teach empathy to kids

Disability Awareness Games

Here are some disability awareness games that can be both educational and engaging:

  1. Inclusive Pictionary: Play a game of Pictionary using symbols or images related to disability awareness. This can include symbols of accessibility, assistive devices, or scenarios depicting inclusive behaviors. Players can guess the words or phrases while also learning about different aspects of disability awareness.
  2. Barrier Breaker Relay: Set up a relay race course with various obstacles representing physical or social barriers that people with disabilities might face. For example, include tasks such as navigating through a narrow pathway, completing a puzzle blindfolded, or communicating using only gestures or sign language. Teams must work together to overcome these barriers and reach the finish line, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and problem-solving in promoting inclusivity.
  3. Disability Trivia Challenge: Create a trivia game with questions related to disability history, legislation, famous individuals with disabilities, and accessibility topics. Participants can compete individually or in teams to answer questions and earn points. This game can help increase knowledge and awareness of disability-related issues in an interactive and fun way.
  4. Adaptive Sports Showcase: Organize a mini sports tournament or showcase featuring adaptive sports such as wheelchair basketball, goalball, or seated volleyball. Participants can learn about the rules, equipment, and techniques involved in adaptive sports while also gaining appreciation for the athleticism and abilities of athletes with disabilities.
  5. Role-Playing Scenarios: Develop role-playing scenarios that illustrate common challenges or interactions experienced by individuals with disabilities in various settings, such as school, work, or public transportation. Participants can take on different roles and practice responding to these situations with empathy and inclusivity, fostering understanding and communication skills.
  6. Sensory Exploration Station: Create a sensory exploration station with various materials and activities designed to simulate different sensory experiences related to disabilities. For example, provide textured objects for tactile stimulation, sound recordings to simulate hearing impairments, or goggles to mimic visual impairments. Participants can explore these stations and reflect on how they perceive the world differently.
  7. Wheelchair Basketball Shootout: Set up a basketball shootout game using a wheelchair to simulate the experience of playing wheelchair basketball. Participants can take turns shooting hoops from different positions on the court, experiencing the challenges and skills required to play this adaptive sport.
  8. Accessibility Scavenger Hunt: Organize a scavenger hunt in which participants search for items or clues related to accessibility features in their environment, such as ramps, Braille signage, or accessible parking spaces. This game encourages participants to observe their surroundings with a focus on inclusivity and accessibility.

These games can be adapted to different age groups and settings to promote disability awareness, empathy, and inclusion in a fun and interactive way.

It’s important to debrief after each game to discuss key takeaways and facilitate meaningful conversations about disability awareness and inclusion.

Disability Awareness Activities for Elementary Students

Here are some disability awareness activities tailored for elementary school students:

  1. Storytime with Diverse Characters: Read books featuring characters with disabilities to the students. After reading, engage them in discussions about the characters’ experiences, challenges, and abilities. Encourage empathy by asking how they would feel or act if they were in the character’s shoes.
  2. Adapted Physical Education Day: Organize a day of adapted physical education activities where students can experience what it’s like to participate in sports and games with modifications. This can include activities like wheelchair races, blindfolded tag, or adapted versions of traditional sports.
  3. Sensory Exploration Stations: Set up sensory exploration stations where students can experience different sensory challenges. For example, have stations with auditory simulations (such as listening to recordings with background noise), tactile simulations (such as feeling objects in a mystery box), and visual impairments (such as wearing blindfolds).
  4. Disability Awareness Art Project: Have students create art projects that promote disability awareness and inclusion. This could include posters, collages, or sculptures depicting people with disabilities engaging in various activities or showcasing their talents and abilities.
  5. Role-Playing Scenarios: Create role-playing scenarios where students can practice interacting with peers with disabilities in inclusive ways. For example, they can take turns being a friend who uses a wheelchair and learn how to offer assistance or include them in activities on the playground.
  6. Barrier Awareness Walk: Take students on a barrier awareness walk around the school or community. Have them identify physical barriers to accessibility, such as stairs without ramps or doors without automatic openers. Encourage them to brainstorm solutions to make these spaces more inclusive.
  7. Disability Awareness Day: Dedicate a day to learning about different types of disabilities through interactive activities and presentations. Invite guest speakers with disabilities to share their experiences and talents with the students. Provide opportunities for hands-on learning, such as trying out assistive devices or learning basic sign language.
  8. Inclusive Classroom Rules: Work with the students to develop inclusive classroom rules that promote kindness, respect, and inclusion for everyone, including students with disabilities. Display these rules prominently in the classroom and refer to them regularly to reinforce positive behaviors.
  9. Disability Awareness Puppet Show: Put on a puppet show that teaches students about disability awareness and inclusion. Create puppet characters with different abilities and personalities, and use the show to illustrate themes of empathy, friendship, and diversity.
  10. Community Service Projects: Engage students in community service projects that benefit people with disabilities, such as collecting donations for disability organizations, volunteering at local special education schools, or participating in accessible playground cleanups.

These activities can help elementary school students develop empathy, understanding, and acceptance of people with disabilities while fostering a culture of inclusion in the classroom and beyond.

Disability Awareness Lesson Plans

Disability awareness in schools is starting to become more common, but there are limited resources out there. I am working with a few other moms and teachers to develop a disability awareness curriculum . When it is complete, I will definitely share.

Until then, here are some special needs lesson plans and activities that you can use and adapt for your classroom or setting.

https://adayinourshoes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Understanding-Kids-with-Disabilities-LESSON-PLANS.pdf

This video is a bit dry, but it’s all I could find. He has some good thoughts and ideas.

YouTube video

Even if your own child’s teacher or troop leader won’t do this, don’t get discouraged. If you have non-disabled siblings in the home or nieces/nephews, the opportunity will present itself and you can use these tips then.

How to Teach Kids about Disabilities

  • As appropriate, let children be curious. Children are always learning, even if you are not consciously teaching them. So let’s make sure they get the right information.
  • Focus on your (disabled) child’s strengths. And what they like; find common ground with the other kids. Create understanding.
  • Allow them a safe place to ask questions. So they don’t create fear-based hate later on. Allow open conversations in your own, invite them.

Disabilities Awareness Month Activities

Disability Awareness Activities are great to do in schools. However, real change begins at home.

Just yesterday, my family was at Longwood Gardens and I noticed several toddlers and preschoolers starting at Kevin. Teaching preschoolers about disabilities is important too!

Explaining disabilities to students at home can go a long way to improving a school’s climate.

  1. Move past awareness and into acceptance. I’m updating this post and this one is going to the top! Let’s move past awareness…is there anyone who is not aware that autism exists, or that there are children and adults living with either disease or disability? We don’t just want you aware….we want to be accepted and included. And inclusion means contributing! Not just passively watching, participating.
  2. Make an effort to change your vocabulary. It’s not a matter of being overly PC. It’s about being sensitive and respecting children. I’m not just talking about the R-word, though that is the next thing on the list. There are other phrases that also get said that are really cringe-worthy if you are a parent. Think about phrases like “they said she might only ever be a vegetable” or “they say she has the capacity of a 2-year-old” (and the child is 15). Now imagine what it would feel like if you were that person or parent! You know what, ask. Most special needs parents would rather open up the communication instead of having you guessing about what to say.
  3. Take the pledge. Spread the Word to End the Word has an online pledge and other information to read and share. This is not an item up for discussion anymore. Plain and simple, it’s not OK to say it. Don’t try to justify it, just take it out of your vocabulary.
  4. Offer to run an awareness program at a Sunday school class, scout troop, or other related groups. I did this with my son’s preschool director. She actually helped me with some of the resources and they are going to do it as a unit at the preschool. How cool is that? Literally, hundreds of preschoolers in our community will be made aware of others’ differences, which is just so awesome. You can make this happen in your community too.
  5. Reach out to a special needs mom. This can be a very isolating life sometimes. I get tired of only talking about IEPs and medical appointments and would love to just talk about normal stuff or shop for an afternoon.
  6. Make an effort to reach out to a neighborhood family or one you see at church and try to include them. Our kids don’t often get invited to birthday parties and play dates. Our kids often lack the skills to make friends but would very much enjoy being around typical children even if the play doesn’t look like normal play.
  7. Add bullying and differences to your dinner table conversation. Bullying seems to be on everyone’s radar these days so bring it to your dinner table conversation. Are your kids seeing other kids (who are different) being made fun of? Encourage them to reach out and be a friend, be a hero. Sometimes all it takes to end a pattern of bullying is for one strong person to stand up and say something. Encourage your child to be that person.
  8. Support a charity and not necessarily just money! There are many ways you can support a cause. Of course, monetary donations are always welcome but it’s not just money. You can sometimes collect bottle caps, Box Tops for Education, run a 5k or 10k that supports a charity, use a search engine (like GoodSearch) that supports a charity…even Amazon now has Amazon Smile which supports charities when you shop on Amazon.
  9. Remember that everyone is better for this. There are many studies that show that children who are aware of the differences of others, who do participate in inclusive classrooms and extra-curricular activities, and who are the friend instead of the bully….they are better at life. Everyone, not just the child with disabilities but the typical child too, does better academically, and psychologically and scores better on overall happiness tests as compared to those who do not make the effort. Inclusion works, it really does!
  10. Be You! Not everything you do is related to disabilities. Bust through those stereotypes and get out there, and show your community that your family is just like theirs most of the time. Being a positive role model and advocate is one of the most useful things you can do.

Disability Awareness Activities are not just for Disabilities Awareness Month. These are things we can incorporate every day in the classroom or at home

Other Ways to Spread Kindness

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