A group of students, several of whom I know, were working together in a group on a project for one of their classes. One of the students flagged me down and asked if I could help. They were putting together a skit to perform in their class and wanted to ask for my advice. They were motivated by the incentive of not having to take a final exam if they did well on this project.
Their project had to revolve around disability awareness month. One of the students in their group, Kayla, happens to have a form of Muscular Dystrophy and is confined to a wheel chair; her particular disability is what the group decided to build their skit around.
They performed their skit and talked about their rationale. The odd thing is there was one student who pretty much dominated the talking, both in describing the skit and performing and it wasn't Kayla. It all got very real for me and while I think I do have a better than average awareness of people with disabilities, there was (and always will be something new to learn).
I offered some notes and changes to further impact the performance and asked Kayla some specific questions about how her life with MD and living in a wheel chair. The team was going to display ignorance and acceptance. They had a very real opportunity though to illustrate ignorance and its effect on someone like Kayla. I told her that if she’s in this, this is something she’s encountered for real, so I told her that she can translate those negative feelings into a positive by using them here, so that the people in her class can know that they are real. There is no way someone can get to know Kayla and not believe her if she tells you how real it is.
The close of the skit has Kayla going in for an interview but this time, the office she enters will be in full ADA compliance and she is treated with the same respect and anybody else would.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve worked with so many varieties of learning styles and disabilities and physical challenges. What it really has taught me is something that most people already know, we are all the same and, we are all different – embrace both.