Great videos to teach kids about disability

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    Have you and your family watched ABC’s fabulous new sitcom “Speechless”? I’ve been hooked since I saw the trailer last spring.

    As the mom of a son who has a disability, it’s rare that we get to see families like ours portrayed in any media, let alone in a really funny, smart TV show that the whole family can appreciate together.

    What critics, disability advocates and fans appreciate about “Speechless” is that it shows the real struggles of a very real family raising three kids including a son who has Cerebral Palsy–without being sentimental or self-pitying. The character of JJ DiMeo, the son who has Cerebral Palsy in the show and in real life, uses a wheelchair and communicates using a device that he manages with a laser pointer, and is funny, expressive, sarcastic and going through teenage coming-of-age moments (such as drinking his first beer at a party) that teens and parents can relate to.

    While 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are living with some kind of disability, most schools don’t regularly do disability awareness education. Too often, students with special needs are seen as “other” because school environments haven’t created opportunities for students to get to know their peers with disabilities. A show like “Speechless” can be a window into a human experience that can otherwise remain unknown.

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    In my work as a disability advocate, I have the opportunity to do trainings for children, teens and families about respecting and appreciating differences and removing the stigma of disability. Beyond watching “Speechless” together, there are lots of great videos that parents (and educators) can watch with their kids in order to create conversations about disability. Even if your family is not personally affected by disability, it is likely that someone close to you will be at some point. And beyond that—we as parents can’t assume that children will act with respect and understanding if we haven’t given them an opportunity to learn about ways to be inclusive around people who may appear different because of disability.

    My video suggestions include:

    For young children: Sesame Street & Autism: See Amazing in All Children is amazing! Because kids are already familiar with Sesame Street characters, it’s easy to teach them about autism through watching this special series. The additional resources about autism created with input from autism specialists and people with autism are an added bonus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism—so it is essential to talk to young children about autism so that they will understand their classmates who are on the spectrum.

    For elementary age: Kates’s Disability Awareness Video is excellent for kids this age because it’s told from the perspective of a fourth grade classmate of a girl who has a disability and gives very practical ideas for how to interact with someone who has a disability.

    For middle school: I have used I’m Tyler in many trainings with teens—it is a very powerful catalyst for them to talk about the assumptions that they make about people with disabilities—and about all of their peers. Tyler is a high school student with CP and in the first part of the video, a typical teen portrays him and describes all of his activities, etc. When the real Tyler repeats everything that the teen actor has shared, it invites teens to imagine whether they would have written off someone like Tyler or would have given him a chance.

    For high school: Great In Uniform is a short documentary-style video showcasing an Israeli army program created for people in Israel with cognitive disabilities to serve in the army. It showcases what it means for the people in this program, the soldiers they work with and their families, and challenges notions that people with cognitive disabilities can’t contribute to society.

    For the whole family: The Loretta Claiborn Story is profound. Loretta, who currently speaks on disability issues around the world, is a world-class athlete who happens to have intellectual disabilities. Before age four, she didn’t walk or speak…and her story is one of belief in her abilities.

    Please write to me if you’d like more suggestions for your children or students!

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