2 Elul 5771
Here's Part I of my effort to minimize any sort of discomfort on everyone's part at the start of this school year:
10 Ways to Embarrass Disabled/Ill Students of All Ages
You know that classy behavior is called for when you’re mainstreaming students who are somehow different from the rest of the class. But sometimes the best of intentions go awry if you fail to anticipate and to practice what to say and how to behave before the need arises.
The key to success is to consider life from the other person’s perspective. Imagine what it’s like to move around, dress, dine or do homework in that disabled student's condition. What’s it like to move about in hallways or classrooms? Participate in group activities?
Teachers, think harder before opening your mouths, using your positions of authority and/or physical strength for or against a student who can benefit from your compassion. Coach protégés in your care to finesse disability issues. Use good sense that produces constructive results. Classrooms are, after all, for educating students to become productive members of society.
Students without disabilities, consider how you’d manage if people treated you as cruelly as can be. There are far too many ways to hurt feelings in every classroom. Here are some gaffes you can avoid with people of different abilities and limitations:
1. Tease the person with some obvious adaptive appliance (wheelchair, hearing aids, canes), or take it from them. Tip wheelchairs if necessary for laughs.
2. If you see two people, each person in a wheelchair, ask if they're racing and "Who’s winning?"
3. Neglect to account for the limitations of disabled students, especially those whose symptoms are not obvious to onlookers. Expecting asthmatics to physically exert themselves too much, demanding that diabetics stop snacking or medicating themselves during class time (though their lives depend on that), and simply failing to see life from the perspective of the person managing with their limitations so they can have quality of life is inexcusable. Hearing-impaired students need to record lectures, to interact with tutors/teaching assistants and so on. Let them.
4. Play games that isolate students who can’t join the fun: hide and seek, reading aloud, and card games. Vision-impaired students don’t stand a chance with those.
5. Speak rudely. Use an uncalled-for slowness and loudness; better yet, talk down to the person using a tone of voice for addressing someone who doesn’t merit simple respect. Refer to the person as if he/she is not right there in front of you! Definitely put their disability before their name or personal title (you know, “I want to introduce you to handicapped Dr. So-and-So…)
6. Refuse to listen to advocates for the person who needs adaptive techniques and technologies. You know best. Promote ongoing struggles to hear, see and understand you, use class materials, and remain in control. The situation will deteriorate before your very eyes as you fail to heed the students’ concerned friends, family members and disability professionals.
7. Complain how astonished you are at - and how hard it is to acquiesce to - requested changes and/or accommodations.
8. Ask personal questions designed to cause discomfort (“Why do you look like that?” “Does this cost a lot?” etc.). Fail to respect the boundaries of polite conversation. Hey, social media proves that nobody has or wants private lives anymore, right?
9. Don’t bother controlling the contorted looks on your face. Stare. Forget about looking at people with open hearts and clear consciences, let alone pleasant or even neutral expressions.
10. Lose your sense of humor in the most benign of situations, or even if a disabled person is in a lousy mood now and then. Why bother giving a disabled person credit for being totally normal like the rest of society?
Any of the above would surely hurt feelings and damage potential chances for scholastic success, let alone a successful social life with fellow students.
One more thing, students and staff: consider doing some role-playing with each other to gain insight into important life lessons about reasonable expectations and ideal responses. Sometimes we humans are simply clumsy when we’re startled by new realities.
Stay tuned for Part II of this thread for tips on how to do things right: "10 BEST Ways to Interact with Students of All Ages." And do let me know your thoughts about these blogposts.
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