Disability Etiquette – a great lesson for BHSM

I became an SLP and specialized in AAC and assistive technology because, when a dear uncle lost the ability to speak, he effectively ceased to “be.”  No one knew how to interact with a person who couldn’t respond — not family, not friends, not even his doctors and nurses.  I didn’t know how either, but DID know that this was wrong, wrong, wrong!  Hence, my career in working with students who have significant communication disorders, and my children’s book, “How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname).”  Maybe, just maybe, I thought, if we can educate our young people in disability awareness and etiquette, they will be more comfortable with people who have all kinds of disabilities, and life will be better for all concerned.

This May I will have the honor of being the “guest author” at my elementary school.  Rather than just read the book to the students in an assembly, I plan to make this day one of active student involvement, and one that will, hopefully, increase awareness and foster acceptance of people who have special needs.  Here’s the plan so far:

  1. All students in grades 3-5 will be given a pre- and post- survey on disability awareness and attitudes.
  2. The librarian will read the book to each class prior to the “Guest Author Day.”
  3. A group of older students will present the Readers Theater version of my book to students in K-3, with the book illustrations shown on the screen.  This is a free download on www.patmervine.com.
  4. Teachers in grades K-3 will show the PowerPoint I created called Katie’s Lessons in Disability Etiquette and will encourage students to act out some of the rules. (This is available at my TPT page).
  5. Teachers will have the option of using the Many Ways We Communicate Word Search and/or Discussion Guide and Writing Prompts, both free downloads on www.patmervine.com.  The Discussion Guide/Writing Prompts delves into three major topics:  communication, acceptance and inclusion, and nicknames, and relates well to our districtwide initiative in social intelligence and anti-bullying.
  6. Students in grades 4 & 5 will have hands-on experiences with what it is like to have a disability.  They will be divided into groups and assigned a physical, sensory, or cognitive impairment.  Then they will go into the gym where stations will be set up.
  • Students who are “blind” will have experience with a vision kit that has glasses simulating a variety of visual impairments.  They will try to perform writing tasks while wearing glasses smeared with petroleum jelly and navigate with a cane.
  • Students who are “Deaf” or “hard of hearing” will experience difficulties in figure/ground with headphones, and will get a brief lesson in lip reading and sign language.
  • Students who have “physical disabilities” will experience doing daily tasks with their non-dominant hand, which will be further “impaired” by a thick glove.  They will try to access the computer with eye gaze technology and, if we can arrange it, will try to operate a motorized wheelchair with a head array of switches.
  • Students who have “communication impairments” will try to communicate with a variety of high- and low-tech communication devices and communication boards.

After having their “disability experience,” the students will return to their classrooms to share with others what they experienced and, hopefully, what new insights they gained as a result.  I will be making the rounds of the classrooms to answer questions about the experiences they had, about the career of speech/language pathology, and about the process of becoming an author.  Because the illustrator of the book is the father of three students in my school, we are presenting the framed cover art to the library as a remembrance of the day.

This very special day is still in the planning stages.  I’ve love to hear your feedback and suggestions!!  Please share in the Comments box.  Thanks!!

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)” is available through Speaking of Speech.com.

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