Written by Danise Grant, EDI Consultant
Everyone is different… right?
Yes, we are! No two people are the same. Even identical twins will have subtle differences that make them different from one another. Some people might have differences that occur in a variety of ways, making them less typical than the rest of the population. These differences are more commonly known as disabilities. However, to some they are additional abilities – things that make them stand out from the crowd by way of adaptability, such as thinking alternatively. Differences can happen irrespective of ethnicity and can occur genetically, such as Down syndrome or Sickle Cell Disease, by way of an accident like a brain injury or be a combination of both. They can be physical like being visually impaired, as well as non-visible such as autism. However, it is not the difference that is important, but the way we interact with, include, learn about, and show kindness to those who are perceived or “labelled” as different.
To be inclusive, is to truly show acceptance. This is not always easy. Yet it is necessary to provide an education that encourages open-mindedness and working together (teamwork), in order for everyone to understand that we are surrounded by difference all the time. Knowledge, acceptance and inclusion of this fact usually forms part of the first steps, and they are fundamental in developing our young people into adults who fully embrace inclusion and difference.
What’s really the difference, about being different?
There are many ways that young people may encounter difference. However, depending on their age and what they have been taught, they may not fully understand it. No one is expecting there to be a specific lesson on disabilities, a sort of Disabilities 101 where they learn about disability in a way that makes it into a … “thing”. Instead, knowledge of differences should be delicately raised, celebrated and discussed with pupils from a young age, so that when they encounter them, it is not scary, intimidating or strange; but exactly the opposite – dare we say “the norm”.
Historically, there have been a number of models, such as the Medical Model, which looked at what was “wrong” with the person as opposed to what the person “needs”. This in essence created a system that led to low expectations of those who were different and a loss of independence or control over how people with disabilities were to live their lives; we are arguably still living with the residual effects of this today. The Social Model categorises individuals by medical issue, and sets to create ways to remove barriers that limit how integrated and independent disabled people can be. But what are our young people learning from these models, other than to understand that difference is “wrong”, or a challenge that needs fixing?
The bottom line is that all young people need help to be successful in life. This will be the same regardless of disability, or ability, as I prefer to phrase it. Teaching young people that we all need extra help, but some just might need a little more than others, is a great place to start. It does not mean that there is a lack of capability or intelligence; it just means that we all need to be mindful of how we can offer support. For example, both teachers and pupils can offer support by modelling or giving extra time to process an activity, or helpfully redirecting towards a task at hand are great ways to demonstrate inclusion.
Character development – teaching fairness, kindness and open-mindedness to our children
The Amazing People Schools resources not only aid young people in the discovery of difference, but also celebrate difference by assisting them in their own development of character. There are many people throughout history, and today, for whom working with their disabilities has led to character development and success; success that may not have happened if they were not different. For example, the adaptability of athlete Abebe Bikala, for whom a life changing accident led to him being in a wheelchair, yet he adapted and continued to compete as an athlete; or the resilience of Helen Keller who became both deaf blind at a young age, but went on to obtain university degrees, author many books, and be an activist for the rights of disabled people. Furthermore, these resources go even further, by introducing a range of individuals with different abilities and role-models that also reflect a diverse student body, helping pupils to see role-models that resemble themselves.
Learning about those who are genetically, physically, or neurologically different can help young people to embrace their own difference, understand that of others, and develop their own perceptions of what they themselves might be capable of as well as those who are considered different. There are many more amazing people mentioned on the site, such as Walt Disney and Frieda Kahlo – who’s differences enhanced their creativity. Or people who used their curiosity, such as Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci. Not to mention the importance of how individuals persevere to achieve their goals or overcome barriers. Moreover, the resources make space for deeper, more critical thinking, such as elements of fairness (equality), the importance of kindness (inclusion), open-mindedness (diversity), empathy and teamwork. All of these strengths help to create an understanding that character strengths exist in us all, but that some people may have to try harder or be more patient with others, and this should all be celebrated so we are able to embrace our own differences and those of others.
Why consider fairness (equality); open-mindedness (diversity) and kindness (inclusion) and how can APS help with discussions surrounding difference?
The truth of the matter is, difference exists and educating about difference does not need to be difficult or cumbersome. There are many who will shy away from discussing differences of ability and explaining how to help (if required) or treat people who are disabled. Previously, education was based on assumption and not real, lived examples from disabled people. There was limited consideration as to how those with disability might have utilised certain character strengths, that demonstrated how, with a little help from others showing teamwork, fairness and kindness, there does not need to be a segregation of members of society based on ability or perceived inability.
Schools who are interested in taking pupil voice to another level should consider developing a student charter using the strengths of fairness, open-mindedness and kindness. Home learning can be supported by using the character strength questions and tasks embedded in our downloadable Amazing Disabled People worksheet. These assist in helping young people and their parents or carers engage in the discussion surrounding disability at home; allowing for development of these strengths to be taught outside of school and related to the real world. As the school leader of improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Amazing People Schools offers an EDI Guide which fuses together the importance of EDI alongside character strengths. It also outlines how, as an institution, resources can be used to develop pupils’ knowledge and understanding of difference and its relevance in everyday life, and how it can be celebrated.
Make that difference by celebrating difference
There are so many characters and inspirational role-models on the Amazing People Schools platform that have had disabilities and worked hard to make an impact on the world we live in. The resources and EDI guides are a great way of introducing individuals who have made a difference by thinking, believing and being different. It is necessary to encourage young people to show kindness when they do not understand, and to develop an alternative way of thinking when it comes to interacting with those who are disabled. It is not always easy to live with, look after, or share space with someone who might have a disability as often the issues they face can be quite complex. However, just like those who are not disabled, life is full of ups and downs. How we choose to navigate those periods, and encourage others when required, can allow for us to celebrate our differences rather than neglect their existence. It is vital that we do just that – celebrate difference. Remembering to act with fairness, kindness and open-mindedness are great ways to help influence change and make the world a better place for all.
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Amazing People Schools is an award-winning character-based learning platform for primary and secondary schools. Through the stories of diverse achievers from throughout history and across the world, it supports the development of character strengths, wellbeing and cross-curricular learning. Sign up to try it out for free here