How to talk to kids about disability

If you’ve found this small little corner of the internet, you likely have a child in your life who is growing and learning about the world but you’re not sure how to tackle the topic of disability. Perhaps you’ve had an encounter out in public where your child has said something about someone with disability that has made you feel embarrassed or not sure of what to say.

Regardless of how you got here, we’re so glad you came.

Before we start with the tips, we just wanted to say thank you. Talking to your kids about disability has a huge impact for us and our community. It’s a big step in helping to create a more inclusive and accessible world and we hope this can be of help to you.

Below are our tips on how to talk to kids about disability.

Normalise and acknowledge disability

It’s important to acknowledge and speak about disability.

Often, people view disability as something that is difficult or even rude to talk about.

Sometimes people don’t know much about disability and therefore don’t think they would be a good person to have these conversations. We can tell you that if you are a trusted person in a child’s life, then that makes you the perfect person to talk about disability with them.

Disability is nothing to be ashamed of

Kids are smart about this stuff. If you treat disability as this thing that you shouldn’t speak about or ask questions about, then it implies that disability is something to be ashamed of. That kind of stigma can be quite damaging to people with disability.

Speak in a matter of fact way

When it comes to talking to kids about disability, it’s best to do it in very clear and straightforward language.

Stay away from euphemisms

There are so many strange ways of speaking about disability. Most of these originated when people who don’t have disabilities wanted to soften the way they speak about people with disability. Phrases like ‘handy-capable’, ‘diffabled’, and even ‘special needs’ might be said with good intentions, however when speaking to kids, it’s best to just be upfront and direct with your communication.

Disability is not a bad word, so there is no need to dance around it.

Treat it as something neutral

The best thing to do is to treat disability as something totally neutral.There is nothing inherently good or bad about having a disability. It’s just a difference that you either have or you don’t.

Don’t speak about disability in an overly negative way

In your language, it’s important to always try your best to show that disability is not something to be sad about, pitied, awkward around, fearful of or negative towards.Yes, disability comes with extra challenges, but constantly being a source of pity and sadness gets very tiring very quickly. Saying things like ‘be thankful you’re not like that!’ or ‘How sad that they have to use a wheelchair’ can be really harmful.

Don’t speak about disability in an overly positive way

This might sound a bit strange, but if you always talk about how brave and inspiring someone is for having a disability, this can have the opposite effect of what you were hoping. It can objectify the person with disability and makes the disability seem like this thing that has to be ‘overcome’.

In summary, just treat disability as something neither good nor bad, but something normal.

Expect questions and awkward situations

Kids are curious! As they learn about the world around them, they are going to come up with a lot of questions for you. When it comes to disability it’s no different.

Never shame kids for their questions about disability

If your child asks you a question about someone with a disability, it’s a great opportunity to open a discussion. They are noticing something about the world around them. If you quickly ‘shush’ them they are likely to think there is something inherently shameful about having a disability - and that kind of feeling can follow them around for a long time.

It’s always best to stay open, calm and positive in these situations.

It’s ok if you don’t know

You’re likely to get questions that you don’t know the answer to - and that’s ok! You can let them know that you don’t know the answer and maybe even research together.

We thank you for taking the time to read this blog. By doing so you are helping to make our communities more inclusive to people with disability.

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