This has been a highly requested post! I get it – knowing the best way to talk to kids about disability is tough. I know that I don’t have kids, but I’ve had so many interactions out in public with kids and their parents – some good, some not so great. So I’m going to share a few tips and the best things you can do to talk with kids about disabilities without making it awkward for anyone.
The Dos: Talking to Kids About Disability
Do encourage their questions and curiosity
Kids are naturally curious – and that’s good! They notice things that they’re not used to seeing, or that looks different to them – wheelchairs or walkers, someone walking with a cane, or someone speaking in sign language. It’s not only okay for them to ask questions, but it’s actually good! It’s the perfect learning opportunity to help them better understand disabilities and disabled people. Encourage those questions – which leads me to my next tip.
Do talk about disability directly
When those questions inevitably happen, answer them openly and directly. Don’t use euphemisms or vague, confusing language. If a kid were to ask about my wheelchair, something like “Oh – that’s a wheelchair! She uses it to help her get around.” is great. Just be honest and direct, like you would with any other question.
Do find books, movies, and toys with disability
Choosing books, toys, movies, and shows that depict disability can be a great way to introduce disability to kids in an easy way. I’m going to have a post next week on books with disabled characters / by disabled authors, and I bought my friend’s son these toys a few years ago.
Do educate yourself on the correct language
If you want to teach your kids about disabilities, it’s important that you’re educated yourself! A good place to start is using the correct language – disabled or person with a disability rather than differently abled, D/deaf or hard-of-hearing rather than hearing impaired, autistic rather than person with autism. Of course, these are generalities – if you’re speaking directly TO someone disabled, you can ask them their preferences.
Do include disabled kids in playtime and parties
I think this is a big one. Don’t be afraid to have your kids play with and include disabled kids! This might mean something as low-key and impromptu as seeing if they’d like to play with your kids at the playground, or something that requires a little more planning like inviting them to a birthday party. If you’re not sure if the party you’re having is accessible, just reach out to the parent, let them know the plans, and ask if there’s anything you can do. We always had little ramps to get over a step or two, and had other workarounds for other events, too.
The Don’ts: Talking to Kids About Disability
Don’t shush them
Just like the first and second tips in the “dos” above – kids are going to ask questions. That’s fine! It’s really, really important that you don’t try to shush them and make them feel bad about asking questions about disability. If they feel like they’re doing something wrong by asking the question, then they start to think of disability itself as something bad!
Don’t ignore disability and disabled people
If disability isn’t a topic you’re comfortable with, I know it can be tempting to just try to avoid talking about it completely. But helping kids become used to and understanding of disability when they’re young is something that will stick with them their whole life! It helps it become normalized to them, and helps them understand that disability is a normal part of life.
Don’t tell them to touch any adaptive equipment
Wheelchairs, canes, walkers, scooters… lots of disabled people view these devices as an extension of themselves. So just like you wouldn’t tell your kid to go touch a stranger, you shouldn’t encourage them to touch assistive devices, either. Now – if I know a kid, I’ll let them touch the buttons on my controller, honk my horn – and that’s fine! Leave that up to the person with a disability.
Don’t let them pet a working dog
Just like the rule for assistive devices, but this time for working dogs – please don’t let your kids touch a service or seeing eye dog! You can explain to kids that these dogs have an important job to do, and that they can be distracted if you try to pet them. I love dogs! I get the temptation, truly – but distracting a working dog can be annoying at best, actually dangerous at worst.
Don’t make assumptions
Whether it’s making assumptions about a disabled kid not being able to join in on an activity or party, or making assumptions about someone’s disability status just by looking at them – the disabled experience is not a monolith! It’s best to go into things with an open mind, and ask – disabled people are reaaaaally good at coming up with workarounds and adaptations. And if a kid has a question about disability you aren’t sure of the answer to? Don’t assume! You can do a little research to find out the right answer yourself. Help make the next generation more inclusive and accepting towards disability.