It is important to talk to young children about disabilities so they know how to treat everyone around them with respect and sensitivity. Being mindful of your own behaviour will set an example for your children or students.
Explaining new ideas and answering their questions can be challenging, but doing so effectively can have a large impact on the way they think and act. Use the following suggestions during interactions with your children or students.
While educating children about disabilities, try to do so in a matter-of-fact manner. Emphasising compassion and empathy, instead of sadness and pity, will help normalise disabilities for them. On the other hand, referring to children with disabilities as ‘special’ or portraying them as heroes can work against that. Avoid implying that people with disabilities should be pitied, or that they are more heroic, brave, or special than others. These notions, as often seen in films, advertisements, and books, can be alienating and so it’s important to be critical and call them out.
Use appropriate terminology
It’s important to use correct language while talking to children as they are likely to echo what they hear. Professionals recommend using positive, person-first language. For example, say ‘person with a disability’ and not ‘disabled person’. Terms like ‘physically challenged,’ ‘special,’ and ‘differently-abled’ can be seen by some as patronizing.
Avoid referring to people without disabilities as ‘normal’ or ‘healthy.’ These terms suggest that there is something wrong with people with disabilities or that they are ‘abnormal.’ Say ‘people without disabilities’. Don’t refer to people in general terms such as “the girl in the wheelchair.” Refer to a person’s disability only when it is related to what you are talking about. For example, it’s okay to say “let’s take the elevator since Lalitha uses a wheelchair,” but not to say “that girl in the wheelchair likes to sing.”
Prompt children to ask questions
Asking questions and clarifying doubts can help discourage children from making assumptions based on limited knowledge. Regular conversations about disabilities will reinforce that this is something they can talk or ask about openly.
Say 'I don't know'
Children may sometimes have tough questions about someone’s disability. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” or “I’ll find out and get back to you,” if you don’t have the answer or need some time to gather your thoughts. It’s important to seek verified resources and provide accurate information.