A sweet friend of mine recently contacted me via email. She was concerned about how to educate her little boy on people with disabilities. How should she explain things? What questions should she answer? What does she say to her little boy?
I am SO grateful when I get emails like this. It's refreshing to know there are parents out there who want to teach their children and educate them properly.
I find that when I am out and about, travelling from place to place, there is one general common occurrence. Kids are always curious about my cane and why I use it. I love kids in that they are so hungry for information and want to know all about everything going on around them. It's in their nature to want to know why and how, I love this.
So how does a parent go about addressing people with disabilities to their children?
1. Always, always be willing to answer their questions. Something that bothers me tremendously is when I hear a child ask their parent about my cane or why I use it and then mom/dad just shushes them. You know, "Shhh...we'll talk about that later (in hushed tone)." It's understandable parents can feel awkward in moments like this especially when they know I can hear them. BUT, the worst thing a parent can do is hush their child. Don't be afraid to answer the question right there on the spot. You may go into a longer, more in-depth conversation later but it's important for them to know it's ok to ask. If I hear the child, I'll sometimes answer myself but the parents are the best people to answer because then the child isn't afraid in the future to ask questions.
2. If you don't know the answer, it's okay. You are not expected to know everything about everything. Answer what you can then later do your own research and find the answers. The Internet has become an excellent resource for information that is easily accessible (still be careful where you get your information from). It's ok to say, "I don't know, but I will find out!" THEN go back to your child with the answer, don't leave them hanging, wondering and speculating.
3. Not every parent will want to do this but it's another option. Sometimes children will come up to me directly and ask me questions like, "Why do you carry that big stick around?" Or, "Why are you looking so closely at that package?" I personally don't mind this at all. It's easy for me to explain and I am totally aware that the child is just curious. If they have a question about me, or the person with the disability, let them ask them. Again, this might make some parents cringe, not knowing what the child may ask, but it's good for them to talk to others and learn things on their own as well.
4. Educate your child. There are so many great stories, books, articles, etc. about people with disabilities most are great, some are not, but check them out yourself first and then share them with your child. For example here are some really fun articles, about blind people, that are fun to read AND are great for educating your kiddos:
I Can't See...But I Can Imagine
Beyond the Funny Tree
The Lessons of the Earth
To Reach for the Stars
The Car, the Sled, and the Butch Wa
Not Much of a Muchness
Reaching for the Top in the Land Down Under
I Can Feel Blue on Monday
Reflecting the Flame
Remember to Feed the Kittens
To Touch the Untouchable Dream
Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses
As the Twig Is Bent
The Freedom Bell
What Color Is the Sun
5. Don't be afraid to ask for help! Like I mentioned before if you don't know the answer to a question or you're not sure how to answer it. Don't hesitate to reach out to someone who can help. I'm always right across the internet-o-sphere at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading this and for being such AWESOME parents!
And HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!