Monday, August 11, 2014

Advice: How to Address Disability With Students?

Teachers with disabilities/health problems -
How do you address your condition(s) with your students? Do you? How do you explain your frequent Dr’s appointments, wheelchair, crutches, braces? I find that it’s easier to address it first because someone WILL ask and they’re all curious, especially if some assistance devices are visible. For example, I wear AFO leg braces, but I like to wear dresses, too - which means my tall socks, AFOs, and sneakers are visible. And usually don’t match the dress. How would you explain it if you were me?

Though I'm not a teacher, I've done childcare in various jobs in the past (babysitter, camp counselor, respite care provider.)

The short answer is:  It's up to you whether to, and how to address it.

I've found it helps to be honest and explain things at the kids' level of understanding.  (Check out Tonia's Big List of Resources for Learning About Disabilities for positive representations of disability in media, ranked by age group.  Perhaps, those would help you talk about it more freely?)  

So just be up front about it.  Maybe during a getting to know you game, or as a part of your introduction to your class, include a sentence or two about your AFO's, and/or your disability.  Try not to make a joke out of the non-matching socks/shoes/dress thing.  If it were me, I'd take that seriously and make it clear that teasing won't be tolerated.  As the teacher (and fellow human being) you deserve respect.  If you make fun of or make light of something, your students might not know where the line is between what is humor, and what's offensive.

Hope this helps!