From the guest author
Parents play a key role in building an inclusive society in which everyone is accepted by teaching the younger generation to see disability as diversity.
Although the disability rights movement has made tremendous strides over the years, we still have a long way to go to ensure that our children understand the experiences of disabled people.
As a specialist in disability and inclusion, I often encourage parents to talk to their children about disability as a normal topic and the main question is, what is the best way to address these conversations?
Normalize disability. Make it clear that disability is a normal part of the human experience by speaking factually about it. Parents can mention that your friend uses a walking stick or that a cousin has a hearing aid. Disability is just another part of our diverse world, nothing terrifying or sad.
Pay attention to the language. Don’t be afraid to use the words “handicap” and “handicapped”. Dancing around these words can create the idea that disability is something to be careful about or be afraid of.
Always encourage parents to use the concept of disability to process their own complaints and focus on talking about it in a way that doesn’t use a lot of cute descriptors and euphemisms. The simpler we are in our language, the easier it is to have conversations with our children.
Keep the value neutral. One thing we should say a lot when we talk to children is, “Disability is neither good nor bad”. It’s value neutral. Do not treat disability as something negative that creates fear, compassion, or discomfort. Statements like “Oh, this is so sad, you have no arm” or “You are so lucky that you are not like that” are harmful.
There is a tendency to say something like, “Oh,” look at this disabled person, you should really admire them. You are so brave. You have overcome so much. This may sound like a compliment, but it objectifies disabled people and creates the idea that disabled people only deserve respect for “overcoming” their disability, and that disability is so bad that it needs to be overcome.
Don’t be ashamed of your questions. It is not uncommon for children to ask their parents about disabled people they see in public. This curiosity is quite natural and fine.
It is important that children do not become ashamed of asking such questions. Often times, parents ignore the question or tell the children to be quiet. It’s okay to let them ask, and I think the more honest and open the dialogue about disabilities, the less such questions will be off-limits. “
If you silence your child or tell them they are rude, it will send the message that disability is shameful and taboo. Instead of scolding, make it clear that their questions are welcome and provide a straightforward answer, such as: B. “This person is using a wheelchair to get around.”
Say “I don’t know”. Children often ask why someone has a disability. In this situation, it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know.”
Sometimes I hear parents respond with their own assumptions about disability, and they are usually incorrect. If it is not possible to speak to the disabled person concerned, parents can simply say they do not know and examine some possible explanations.
Point out similarities. You can also point out similarities, be it a stranger in a wheelchair picking the same brand of ice cream your child likes, or a friend from school who is in the same club.
The most important thing to remember is that non-disabled people can be the best possible allies by talking openly and honestly.
Godfrey Nanyenya is a disability and inclusion specialist working with Joy for Children Uganda
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