Advocacy Toools|

Adults have often been misguided when taught how to interact or develop a relationship with someone with a disability, and we want to help break that cycle. Here’s a few simple steps that can help parents talk to children when they encounter someone who has disabilities. As a self-advocate, what steps would you add? As a peer-advocate, what’s worked in your family?
1. It’s Okay to Notice: Young kids are naturally curious, so when they notice someone with a disability, their first instinct is to study it and ask about it. Take the lead and start a conversation with your child if you see them notice someone with a disability. Keep your explanations positive – having a disability is not a negative thing. For example, you may want to tell your child “Hearing aids HELP others hear,” “Wheelchairs HELP others move around and get from one place to another,” Using sign-language HELPS others communicate, it is how some individuals talk.” Instead of using negative words like, “He CAN’T hear,” “She CAN’T walk.” “They CAN’T talk,” a short, direct description can answer your child’s natural questions while showing them that there are many ways to do things, and all these ways are correct. By doing this, you are building a foundation within your child built with the understanding that disabilities are a natural part of the human experience.
2. Use Respectful Words: Children are like sponges and absorb and repeat everything they hear and see. When talking about someone with a disability in your comfortable home environment, it’s important to remember that words can leave negative impressions and can actually hurt others. Even if we don’t understand how or why, the disrespect and pain is still very real to others. It’s important to respect those emotions and use words and phrases that don’t make others feel disrespected, left out, or imply that they are less than anyone else. Taking a family pledge not to use disability related insults in your daily vocabulary can be a good first step towards being a true champion for others. By doing this, you can help build an inclusive environment where everyone feels accepted and everyone belongs.
3. Talk About Similarities: People with disabilities share far more similarities with people without disabilities than we might observe. People with disabilities have feelings, like to have fun, love their family, have a favorite sports team or band, take care of their pets, have the same favorite restaurants, may be studying the same major, have intimate relationships, raise families, are creators, artists, and so much more. Talk to your children and don’t allow them to fall into the stereotypical traps set by society. Not all people with Down Syndrome are happy all the time. People who live everyday with Down Syndrome feel a wide range of emotions – just like people without Down Syndrome. People with autism aren’t antisocial, it can be hard for anyone to feel comfortable in social settings or read social cues from others- that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be friends or be left out. Society hasn’t always been a great teacher when it comes to allyship. So, don’t let society teach your child what they don’t have in common with someone that has disability. Encourage them to find out what they do have in common.
4. Teach Understanding: Teach your children at a young age to expect and accept accommodations and supports. This will ensure that when seeing someone with a disability who is using an accommodation to reach their goal, they have the proper grasp of the situation. Every person needs supports in life to be successful in whatever they are doing. An accommodation is a support that removes a barrier for a person with a disability, that stands in the way of them reaching their goal. Accommodations are not a privilege or an advantage, they are actually a right, by law, that a person with a disability has to allow for an equal playing field. When the accommodations remove the barrier, the person is then available to put in the work to reach their goal, whether that be in a school or a career setting. Teaching your children about this will help them grasp the concept, not be jealous, intimidated, or feel the need to criticize someone for reaching their goals in a different way.
5. Address and Condemn Bullying: Children with disabilities can be a target for bullying and harassment from other children, and even adults. Talk to your child about why intentionally hurting someone else is wrong, and teach them to actively apologize when they’ve done that. Address the person by name, and specifically apologize for the hurtful thing that they did. Identifying the thing that hurt the other person is key when teaching how to act in the future. It’s important for your child to know that everyone, including someone who is different than them, has feelings and deserves to be treated with kindness and with respect.

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