Last week my fellow trainer Zoe and I had the pleasure of spending the day at Sir William Borlase Grammar School delivering workshops as part of their Year 7 Disability awareness day. We frequently deliver workshops for schools but one of the things that really stood out about the day was the number of questions the young people wanted to ask. They took part in some games and activities but we ended up not doing everything that we had planned simply because once the questions started, they just didn’t stop. We were delighted. After the session on the slow drive around the M25 I had plenty of time to reflect on the day.
I have lost count the number of times a child has stared at me when I have been out with friends and using British Sign Language. When this happens usually a parent pulls them away and tells them it’s rude to stare before I have chance to say anything. Children are curious about the world in which they live and particularly when they see something new. I have been asked by children numerous times what’s that thing behind my ear (my cochlear implant). The difficulty arises when children are not encouraged to ask questions and find out about disability (in a positive and appropriate way) and instead are told it’s rude. The child often sees the embarrassment that their parent displays and remember it. This feeds into the ‘fear factor’ that as a charity we speak about; where people are awkward around disabled people because they worry about saying or doing the wrong thing.
Having the opportunity to meet disabled people enables children and young people the chance to see that we are just like everyone else and that there is no need to feel awkward around us. Giving them the opportunity to ask questions in a safe and appropriate environment demystifies disability and can only help to remove that fear factor.
Children and young people are the next generation. If we can reduce that fear factor, then this in turn will help to reduce the barriers that disabled people face in terms of attitude and communication. Remember that we will only be an inclusive and accessible society once attitudes are changed. The more children that have workshops and positive interactions with disabled people the quicker this will happen.
I would like to say well done to Sir William Borlase Grammar school for valuing diversity and inclusion and for arranging such a great day!