FEATURE

Toolkit for Beautiful Differences

Want to teach students about ability and access? Try this lesson.

Joel Blecha’s inspiring curriculum helped his students think about ability, disability and accessibility—topics that can be difficult to address with students. Blecha’s success shows how important it is to start locally and that students of all ages are equipped to grapple with these concepts.

How can you begin addressing issues of access with your students? This toolkit will help you and your students discuss issues of accessibility and what they mean in your school and local community.

 

Essential Questions

  1. What is accessibility?
  2. What are some of the things our school or community does to be accessible to everyone? What are some things we don’t do but should?
  3. Who in our school or community is working on issues of access?

 

Procedure

  1. Have your class do a whole-group brainstorm of what they think about when they hear the words ability, disability and accessibility. Students of different ages and levels of experience will have different levels of familiarity with these terms. Use Blecha’s suggestions from “Beautiful Differences” to talk about the different meanings these words can have. Chart your students’ responses. Display student associations to each word prominently in your classroom.
  1. Break students into groups and have each group focus on a particular set of circumstances that might be considered a physical disability. Some possibilities might include: blindness, deafness, the need for a wheelchair, difficulty with verbal speech, the loss of a limb, chronic fatigue syndrome or difficulty with fine motor control. Be sure to explain to each group that you are not expecting them to know everything about the disability or to become experts or representatives; rather, you are asking them to try to put themselves in the shoes of someone experiencing life with this disability. 
  1. Ask each group to think through their daily lives at home and school and list four to five obstacles or challenges a person with this physical condition might face. Then, have each group list four to five ways the world could be made more accessible to people with this condition. For instance, if a student has trouble hearing a teacher in school, maybe she could sit closer to the front of the classroom or have opportunities for one-on-one time with the teacher or an interpreter. Another example might be a person who struggles with getting off and on public buses. Chair lifts or ramps are helpful in these instances, though students may have other ideas as well.
  1. Give each group the opportunity to share their brainstormed ideas with the class. As a whole group, discuss any repeating themes that arise. You may use what you learned from the article to guide your facilitation of the discussion. Did your students discuss public transportation, restaurants and movie theaters? What about playgrounds?
  1. Break students into different small groups and have them research online, in phone books or in local magazines or newspapers to find local organizations that advocate for people with physical disabilities. Reach out to these organizations to learn what they are working on and what they see as the most pertinent local issues facing people with physical disabilities. Are there ways students might be able to help? 
  1. Encourage students to communicate with these organizations by making phone calls, doing interviews, writing letters or taking field trips. Younger students might work together to write questions for interviews they would conduct in person during field trips or guest speaker visits, whereas older students might be able to reach out by email or phone more independently. If you live in a community that is smaller or has limited resources, you might want to stick with phone calls or web searches that will connect you to the broader world of disability activism.

Some helpful websites for getting started are:

Abler.

This website features and comments on adaptive technology and the relationship between human bodies and the built environment.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning

UDL is an approach to curriculum development that supports equal opportunity for all kinds of learners by providing multiple means of representation, expression and engagement.

  1. Give students a chance to share their findings with their peers.