We live in an ableist world and it won’t change until we do something about it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anyone with a disability, you can still be an ally to a group that has been suppressed for far too long. I am a former special education teacher now inclusion specialist raising two small children without disabilities. We don’t have anyone in our family or extended family with a disability but my partner and I make the effort to educate our children on everyone’s abilities. Celebrating our differences has created kind, empathetic children, who already try to figure out how they can include the people around them. And isn’t that what we all want, kind children leading this next generation into success? Let me tell you how we do it.
Education. We need to educate ourselves and our children about their communities. We should be talking about why there are ramps, the yellow bumps before crossing a street, guide dogs, white canes, wheelchairs, iPads that children are using to communicate (AAC devices), or any other sort of accommodation we might see while out. My favorite way to do this is through reading. We focus a lot on buying (or borrowing) books that have characters with disabilities or different backgrounds than us. We discuss how we don’t pet guide dogs because they are working and that we don’t touch someone’s wheelchair without asking and waiting for approval. These are the types of conversations we can have now to educate our children, and ourselves, to better understand people that are different than you.
Exposure. When we go to playgrounds or join extra-curricular activities, I will scour the internet description for the word “inclusive.” I want to find places that are welcoming to children with and without disabilities. We have experienced multiple conversations with people with disabilities and guess what?? Nothing special happens. In that exact moment. Someone might get frustrated by the different communication style or someone might get confused on something different than what they are used to, but people adapt. We don’t learn without trying. Be respectful, talk to children appropriately, and don’t dismiss them because of a disability. I also suggest watching TV shows, movies, and reading books with character with disabilities. Even better, a character with a disability but the book has nothing to do with a disability!!
Be an ally. Now this one is where I struggle with the most. When I am out at the grocery store and I hear someone use the r-word, I will turn and stare at them and then freeze up. When I am talking to a family friend and they say that someone is being a “spaz,” I go instantly quiet. My problem is, I don’t want anyone to feel excluded, and sometimes calling people out on their ableism makes them defensive and the situation awkward. If the comment is made in a conversation I am having, I respond back using the correct terminology. I also practice being an ally by listening to people with disabilities. We need more inclusive playgrounds? I will help fund them! We need more inclusive books? I will write one! We need more inclusion? I will train people on how to be inclusive!
Raise Awareness. Have conversations with people. Call out ableist comments (I will work on this with you). Keep talking about it! Especially on specific disability awareness days or months. There are plenty of different months and days that celebrate different cultures, disabilities, and food. Some are more well-known than others, but this website has the ultimate list. https://disabilityin.org/resource/2023-calendar-of-disability-related-dates/
Our children are going to be the next generation of voters, law-makers, workers, parents, and community builders. We can learn from our mistakes and teach them how to include everyone, how to figure out accommodations when necessary, and how to call out ableism in the system. I want my children to learn how to be a good teammate, peer, and friend to everyone at their school. Inclusion starts with you and I just want to help.