When kids see someone with a disability, their curiosity tends to cause them to look a little too long. Even my friend’s son, who is affected with Down Syndrome, has to be reminded not to stare when he sees someone who is more severely affected by their disability. Then when caught looking by the person with a disability, the knee jerk response is to look away! I know this makes us chuckle a little, but the reality is we’re not comfortable when we see a person affected by disabilities. I would say it probably makes us a bit fearful because we don’t understand, and we don’t know what to do. Here are three ways you can help kids feel comfortable with those affected by disabilities.
First, make kids aware that although people affected with disabilities are different, those differences don’t have to make us uncomfortable. There’s a great reminder from God in Psalm 139 that we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. You know what, that includes those affected with disabilities. God asked Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth, who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” God made those affected with disabilities just the way they are for reasons only He knows. Let’s help kids know they can approach the situation with the mindset that those affected with disabilities are people just like you and me with many of the same emotions and needs that we have. Everyone needs to be loved and simply respected as a human being who God created and loves. Philippians 2 reminds us that we are to count others more significant than ourselves regardless of abilities.
Second, teach kids to treat those affected with disabilities the same way they would like to be treated. We like it when someone is friendly and kind to us. Here are some tips to being friendly. Introduce yourself and ask for their name. Keep your voice at a normal level. Don’t assume they have difficulty hearing. Remember that a wheelchair is part of an individual’s personal space. Be careful not to lean on it or use it as a footrest. Don’t push their wheelchair unless you ask them first. Allow the person affected by the disability to set the pace in walking, talking, or playing. Always talk directly to the person affected by the disability not their caregiver. As you get to know your new friend, it’s ok to ask questions. If you don’t understand what your friend says, it’s ok to ask them to repeat themselves.
Third, as you discuss disabilities, use inclusive words and keep kids from mocking a disability. In the past, our society has used words like afflicted, poor, suffers from, or unfortunate. But many people affected by disabilities are independent and cope with life as well as most of us, so those words don’t apply.
Here are better words to use:
Rather than saying someone is afflicted or disabled, say they are affected by disability.
Rather than saying someone is handicapped or crippled, say they have a physical disability.
Rather than saying someone is mentally handicapped, say they have a learning disability.
Rather than saying someone is confined to a wheelchair, say they use a wheelchair.
Rather than saying someone suffers from hearing loss, say they are deaf or hard of hearing.
Rather than saying someone is sickly, say they have a chronic illness.
This type of language will go a long way in encouraging us all to be inclusive in our speech and activities.
When Chloe was visiting her grandpa’s house, she befriended a neighbor girl who was deaf. They had fun playing together and then sat down to rest. Chloe talked on and on but her friend didn’t respond. She thought her friend was quite rude until she realized “She can’t hear me because she’s not looking at me to read my lips.”
Help the kids in your life be prepared to smile, say “hi” and introduce themselves when they meet someone with a disability. It will bring a smile to both their faces. Encourage kids to experience the blessing of getting to know a person affected by a disability. You never know, it could be the best friendship they ever had!
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