Last week, I shared the experience that my sister, Sarah, and I had speaking to a third grade classroom about Down syndrome, disabilities, and how the differences that we all have make life interesting. If you missed the blog post, you can check it out here.
We were asked to speak to this particular third grade class during “Disability Week,” an event organized by the Joseph Maley Foundation (JMF) for local grade schools in the Indianapolis area.
The Joseph Maley Foundation was founded in 2008 with the mission of serving children of all abilities and inspiring individuals to accept and serve others. Today, the Joseph Maley Foundation is comprised of seven programs that seek to serve the whole child and individuals who directly interact with the child, including parents, siblings, friends, educators, health professionals, and community leaders. One of the seven programs that the JMF offers promotes disability awareness to schools and organizations.
I believe it is so important to spread disability awareness to children at young ages. By nature, children are aware and are curious about differences they observe in others. In the past, most children have been taught that it is not polite to ask questions or to be curious about people with disabilities. By contrast, the mission of JMF’s Disability Awareness program is to create a safe environment for children to learn about disabilities and to ask questions about the differences that they are already aware of in others.
I have found that by educating children while they are young and still have an open mind about differences, we can eliminate the belief that being different is something to be ashamed of. Also by promoting awareness and understanding of disabilities, we can reduce some of the stereotypes perpetuated based purely on lack of education.
The main reason I am so encouraged by and supportive of disability awareness programs, such as the one offered by JMF, is that the children who participate in these programs will have many opportunities in their futures to positively impact their communities. Having had their questions about disabilities answered and their curiosities about what makes us all different explored early on, these students can grow into a generation of adults who are willing to stand up for and create even more opportunities for people of all abilities to succeed.