Talking to kids about disabilities is important – here's how to do it
Chatting to our kids shapes their understanding of the world they live in.
When we talk to our kids about disabilities from a young age, we're sowing the seeds of an inclusive worldview that takes issues surrounding disabilities and accessibility into consideration.
Disability Together, a non-profit created and run by disabled people aiming to educate and spread awareness, shared their top tips on how to normalise and talk to kids about disabilities. Here's their advice on raising your kids with empathy and understanding so they don't grow up seeing disabilities as unnatural.
Engage their curiosity
When a child sees a disabled person in public, they might ask questions. Instead of shushing them, answer them! Most disabled people would be less offended by a child's curiosity and more offended by an adult making disabilities seem taboo or something to be hushed away. Remember though, disabled people aren't required to answer any questions asked, even by kids!
Keep it simple
As adults, we often underestimate children's ability to understand concepts we see as complicated. But a child's curiosity goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to learn. Their questions will probably be fairly surface-level when they're young, so answer what they want to know in a clear and simple way. Discussions about disabilities can evolve as your child grows older and wants to learn more.
Representation is an important part of making disabilities a visible part of everyday life. Exposing your kids to disabled characters in the stories they read, the videos they watch and the art they see makes disabilities natural to them. Seeing disabled characters from a young age will stop them from being confused or shocked when they meet disabled people in real life.
If you're unsure of where to start, here's a list of kids' media that features disabled characters.
Emmanuel's Dream: This is a children's book about the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a Ghanian athlete and disability rights activist who cycled 400 miles with a prosthetic leg.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: A reboot of the 1980s animated series, the new show has been applauded for its well-written representation of autism in the character of Entrapta.
Six Dots: This picture book biography tells the story of the inventor of Braille, the system of touch reading and writing still used by blind or visually impaired people today.
The Healing Powers of Dude: This sweet Netflix show will help the whole family better understand both visible and invisible disabilities as it follows 11-year-old Noah navigate his social anxiety disorder alongside Duke, his emotional support dog. Noah's best friend Amara uses a wheelchair due to her muscular dystrophy.
Silent Lotus: Set in Kampuchea (known today as Cambodia), this book follows a non-verbal deaf girl as she learns to ballet dance.
Goldie and Bear: One for the little ones, this Disney Junior series follows Goldie Locks as she embarks on an unexpected friendship with baby Bear. Goldie's mother Marian uses a wheelchair as she travels the world for business.
If you've got teens, TikTok is also home to plenty of disabled creators who bypass 'inspiration porn' and tell their own stories by making a wide range of content – from fashion, to beauty, to comedy and so on. The app, which your teen likely already has downloaded on their phone, features a variety of creators with visible and invisible disabilities, as well as those who were born disabled or became disabled later in life.
Some examples worth following are @blackautisticking (music, intersectionality and autism), @gentask (black comedy and tetraplegia), @bbjiya (makeup, race and mild spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy), @wheelierin (makeup, comedy and spinal muscular atrophy), @paigelayle (autism and mental illness), and @crutches_and_spice (comedy, advocacy and cerebral palsy).