Understanding Disabilities

This lesson helps students increase knowledge about people with disabilities and explore ways to sensitively communicate with people with disabilities.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Increase knowledge about people with disabilities
  • Explore ways to communicate sensitively with people with disabilities
Essential Questions
  • What are some disabilities?
  • What are the specific conditions of some disabilities?
  • What are appropriate ways to communicate sensitively with people with disabilities?
  • What are some ways to support and encourage others to sensitively communicate?


disability [dis-uh-bil-i-tee] (noun) a condition of having a physical or mental impairment

sensitivity [sen-si-tiv-i-tee] (noun) an understanding of others’ feelings and emotions



  1. With a partner, discuss:
    • What is the definition of the word disability?
    • What are some examples of physical disabilities?
    • What questions do you have about certain disabilities?
  2. Work with your partner to record your short definition and description of the term disability.List some examples of disabilities that can be seen.
  3. Break into “letter” groups: Group A, Group B, Group C and so forth. Your teacher will assign your letter group a topic to research. (Note: Assign each group one of the following disabilities to research: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, intellectual disability, blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, muscular dystrophy.) Use the handout Researching Disabilities to help structure your work. As a group, discuss:
    • Did you have any stereotypes about people with this disability before learning more about it?
    • How has learning more about this disability changed your views?
  4. Now have each person in your “letter” group join classmates from each of the other letter groups to form “number” groups: Group 1, Group 2, Group 3 and so forth. Each number group should include one person from each letter group. Each person should present their topic to their new group. (Note: Help students with this jigsaw activity by making sure each number group has one member from each letter group represented.) When presenting your topic to your number group, discuss:
    • What are the basic facts about this disability?
    • What are the main challenges someone with this disability overcomes daily?
    • How can you support someone with this disability?
  5. Communicating positively and with sensitivity is a key way to help support and include people with disabilities. Use the handout Understanding Hidden Disabilities to complete a Web Quest with a partner. This handout will help you learn tips for communicating with sensitivity.
  6. After completing the handout, share your ideas with the rest of the class. Discuss:
    • What new information did you learn from the website’s tips?
    • What are some ways in which you might have been unintentionally insensitive to people with disabilities?
    • What are some ways to be more sensitive to others in the future?


Extension Activity

  1. Choose one disability that may not be visibly obvious that you’d like to learn more about. Research the condition and write a short report summarizing the disability.
  2. Begin a campaign in your school to promote sensitivity towards people with disabilities. Here are some ideas to consider: create posters and hang them around your school or invite speakers to address your student body.
  3. Research the history of the rights of people with disabilities. Share your findings with your class.