Different Abilities

I used to have a blind dog named Bo, a lab mix. I worked at a rescue for senior and special needs animals. Bo and I hit it off, and, after a year together there, I bought my house, and he moved in the next day. Bo was a sweet dog, but he invariably upset other dogs when they first met him. He didn’t act like them in certain ways – rather than the cordial nose-to-tail greeting that is acceptable in dog society, he always managed to charge straight into their head, which they took as an aggressive act and would respond in kind. However, once I sorted out the ensuing tangle and made the proper introductions, they would gradually become accustomed to each other’s ways and find things they had in common. I found him a friend, another lab mix named Mandy. As usual, they immediately went down in a heap of dust and teeth… but an hour later they were happily gnawing bones side-by-side out in the grass. Bo calmed Mandy’s anxiety. She showed him that water wasn’t scary. He protected her from new dogs. She got him through thunderstorms. They taught each other how to hike and play and just be together in harmony. She was grief-stricken when he died a few years ago and has yet to warm to the next dog that we brought home. The moral of the story is this: what we don’t know can be scary, and when we’re scared or unsure, we often act badly. If we can stop, regroup, and learn about each other, we may find we are far more alike than we ever guessed, have talents that can better each other’s lives, and that we can create enduring friendships. There are many ways in which the people of the world are different, and our abilities are but one of them. It is important to explore, embrace, and empower each other with all of our differences and abilities.

Out in the Community:

  • Attend your local Special Olympics.
  • Are there 5ks or other events benefiting causes? Join them.
  • Our local Vocational Services has an art guild and do a yearly exhibit. If you have something similar, attend the programs and shows offered.
  • When you encounter someone who is different as you are out and about, say hello and engage them. Model inclusivity to your kids and listen to any questions they might have.
  • Discuss accessibility issues when you visit places.

Lesson Building Blocks

  • This is a great opportunity to get artistic while having a discussion about how we would all like to be treated with Spread a Little Kindness.
  • Go on an accessibility scavenger hunt (the checklist we used, a simplified version of the ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities, Version 2.1, is available to download below). Visit public spaces – indoors and out – with your focus being on whether or not people with varying abilities could access it. Our list was primarily for indoors, but after checking out our local library (a newer building), we walked uptown, observing traffic signals and sidewalk amendments, and finished off at an older building that is virtually inaccessible: the toy store. The contrast was striking.
  • There are many online ideas available for doing disability awareness through activities to show what it is like; I would just advise you to do some reading beforehand. This method is going out of style, and there is concern that the emphasis then becomes what people can’t do by accentuating limitations. I would say at least balance these kinds of activities with discussions over how amazingly people can find ways to adapt and excel, regardless of what obstacles they face, as this is something we all need to master in one form or another in our lives.
  • For our discussion, I put together a sheet that included: their name in ASL, their name in Braille, the quote at the top of the page, and then a few talking points. (The first was that there are blind people who ride bikes – how did they think this was accomplished? Second, for them to always keep in mind that we should treat people as we want to be treated. Third, to consider their own home; how accessible is it?)
  • Do you know someone with any sort of disability? Ask if they would be open to your child(ren) and you coming for a real conversation on what that has meant in their life, and what they think it is important for others to know.
  • Explore a relevant historical figure on a deeper biographical level with ideas from If I Were You…


* If there is any trouble with this download, please let me know

Mandy and BoBo enjoying each other – and their baby

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