With this month having been National Down Syndrome Month as well as National Disability Month, it’s been exciting to see some of the activities going on in our schools to bring awareness and appreciation for diverse learning abilities.
At one public elementary school in Cambridge, one period in October was dedicated to a week-long effort to weave activities into the curriculum that would foster awareness and educate about different disabilities with the on-going goal of creating a respectful and inclusive environment so students of all abilities feel welcomed.
Timed to coincide with National Disability Month (also National Down Syndrome Awareness Month), the activities culminated in a day-long celebration on Disability Awareness Day. The morning kicked-off with a parents breakfast, viewing and discussion of the documentary film, “Including Samuel” by Dan Habib, a film about the Habib family’s efforts to have their son with cerebral palsy included in a general education 3rd grade classroom. During the course of the morning, teachers and parent volunteers led the students in activities designed to promote understanding and acceptance of individual differences. The message: universally we all have strengths and vulnerabilities, whether this is due to a disability or our current circumstance, however we can use our strengths to overcome our challenges. The activities provided an opportunity to engage in ongoing conversation with the goal of strengthening students’ abilities to take the perspective of others and develop problem-solving skills to support all members in their learning community.
The highlight of the day was an all-school assembly led by Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) representative, Kerri Tabasky on the importance of respect and valuing differences. The assembly including interviews with teachers on challenges they faced when they were younger and how they overcame them. The best part was when students came up to the stage to share what they had learned from the week’s activities. One student empathized that she now understood how difficult it what to follow along when you couldn’t really hear. She had participated in an activity designed to simulate hearing loss and we talked afterwards about the importance of compensating strategies such as lip-reading, to help overcome this challenge. Another student said, “I didn’t realize Down syndrome was just one part of who he is.” In my experience, the biggest barrier to inclusion is fear, but when we include students with Down syndrome in the general education classroom, peers begin to see the child first, and Down syndrome just becomes one part of who their new friend is.
To plan a Disability Awareness Day at your school, contact us for more information.