How do you feel about teaching your kids about disabilities? I’m going to be honest (because this is my blog and I can if I want to), teaching Kari about disability was not high up there on my list of priorities. NOT because I deemed the topic unimportant. I think that it is super duper important! But I was silly enough to believe that, at her age, my little girl wouldn’t really encounter someone with a disability. After reading about my friends Laz and Ruth’s amazing work that they are doing with Maya Deaf Foundation, I quickly realized how “doff” I was being. The truth is that it’s highly likely that your kid will, at some point, meet someone with special needs. I mean, Laz woke up one morning – at the tender age of seven – suddenly 100% deaf! Can you image that? Waking up to silence?
Thankfully he was surrounded by an amazing support system and, thanks to a successful cochlear implant, went on to finish high school, at a public school not a special needs school, as Head Boy and first team rugby player! The truth is that there are other kids, like Laz, who may have to live a challenged life due to a special need or disability. It is with this in mind that he co-founded the Maya Deaf Foundation (MDF) – with his amazing girlfriend Ruth of Pursuing Purpose and his best friend, Curtley Wildschut. The foundation was birthed after a successful social media campaign run by the team. The campaign, #NotDEAFeted, was supported by various media houses and celebrities, and was able to reach more than 120 000 people!
I love everything that MDF stands for! The main objectives of the organization, amongst others, is to provide financial assistance and support for young people who cannot afford cochlear implants and hearing aids. MDF aims to create employment opportunities for the hearing impaired and the teams passion is to see the hearing impaired empowered and able to participate equally and fully in society. You can check out more here. Already, the foundation has reached and educated so many (myself included) and I think it’s pretty darn awsome that Laz is able to turn something, meant to stunt him, around for good!
Right, so what do I teach my kids?
It’s so important to foster a culture of inclusion and acceptance, when it comes to disabilities and special needs. Let’s be real, our kids may not always know how to respond to someone with a disability. Kids are curious. Questions will be asked and fingers will be pointed (much to your embarrassment).
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when talking to your kids about disabilities:
– Let them ask questions. Don’t brush them off, in the hopes that they’ll quickly forget and move on. It’s the perfect time for you to educate your child!
– Teach them that kids with special needs are different, but it’s not bad and people with disabilities are not sick. Instead of trying to get them to pretend not to notice the handicap, rather help them understand it (as best you can). I’ve begun to show Kari how to “speak with her hands”. I’ve explained that when someone can’t hear with their ears, then they hear with their hands. (That’s her signing “thank you” in the header pic on top.)
– Empower them by providing resources and knowledge. One of the biggest things for me was to make sure the kids knew the correct terms for certain disabilities. Name calling and bullying is not allowed in our home (duh) but it’s so easy for kids to pick up an insulting word to describe someone who may be different to them.