Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Explaining Disabilities

In Adrien:  Teaching students to be self-advocates from Reality 101: CEC's blog for new teachers, Adrien asks,

“How do you teach students with disabilities about disabilities? Or to be self-advocates?”

At the beginning of every school year and at least once every quarter, we talk about disabilities. It is that elephant in the room that unless it is discussed can really interfere with learning. I like to get it out of the way as soon as possible.

DSC_0003I start out with the picture of a car on the board (I’m not a good artist so my students enjoy seeing my drawing ability!). Then I draw bridge with a road on each side in front of the car with a dotted line. I explain to my students that this is the road to graduation. Sometimes I might even draw a pot of gold or a packet of money at the end of the road. All of the kids are paying attention at this point. Then I take the eraser and erase the bridge. I explain that this is their disability. For whatever reason, their bridge is gone and we are not going to worry about why the bridge is gone or what caused it to be gone.

Now I draw a detour road from the car up around the road and broken bridge that leads to the pot of gold (or money). This road is usually full of curves to show that it is longer than the original road. Unfortunately this road is full of potholes, boulders, and lots of ups and downs that cause their trip to be longer and harder than if they had traveled the original road. This is just like their life where they may face hardships and struggles but that there is no reason that they can’t end up at their destination just like students in general education classes. Of course the trip may be longer and harder and they may even want to give up at times. But I will be there to help them and encourage them so that they won’t be alone on the trip. I describe myself as the “On-star” voice in their car.

I think this really helps many of my students. I see them nodding with understanding and agreement. It seems to make sense to them. Then I ask them to make the same type of drawing and explain it to a partner. For homework, I ask them to explain it to their families and discuss it with them. When they return to school, I ask them to share how they felt and how their families felt about this explanation. To reinforce this explanation, I repeat this again right after they get their report cards and right before summer vacation. You would think they would get tired of this but they never seem to tire of hearing about it.

How do you explain disabilities? Please share.

Original photo by Pat Hensley

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