Hands-On Projects to Teach Kids About Disabilities

Developing empathy will help you understand the difficulties faced when living with a disability.
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Students interact with people who have disabilities every day. Hands-on projects give students an understanding of the difficulties associated with physical and mental disabilities. Developing a sense of empathy for those with disabilities helps students work better with others in groups and one on one. Students will develop an appreciation of the very real contributions all people can make to our lives.

1 Deaf and Hard of Hearing

People take for granted the sense of hearing that provides humans with hearing words, music and the sounds of nature. Illustrate how people who have hearing loss can function just as well as those with hearing by conducting a group activity without any verbal communication or noise. For example, give students 50 straws and a three-foot strip of tape. Groups will build a tower using only the materials provided and without using verbal or written communication. When the project is complete, discuss how the silence affected their productivity and success of the project. Students will discover they don't have to hear to be able to function in a group; however, that functionality comes with inherent frustrations and extra effort.

2 Visual Disabilities

Teach children how those with visual disabilities may rely on physical and auditory clues to move around safely in their environment. Illustrate this concept by playing a game of seek and find with students. One student guides a blindfolded student across the room using verbal commands. Students will learn the use of clock commands such as directing someone to the right using the 3-o’clock position. Students will gather a sense of responsibility for those with vision loss while those with the visual impairment will gain a heightened sense of touch, hearing and smell as they navigate through the room.

3 Physical Disabilities

Many causes or conditions can impair the movement and function of the body. Have students participate in various activities that illustrate the effects of the loss or impairment of one or more body parts. For example, have students tape their thumbs to the palm of their hands or tie an arm behind their back. While their thumbs are taped or arms are restricted, have students create a poster illustrating the concept of empathy. Require students to use scissors, tape, glue and crayons while making their posters. This project will illustrate the difficulties encountered while completing a common classroom task while engaging their understanding of empathy.

4 Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities encompass a wide range factors in which the brain does not receive, process, store or retrieve information efficiently. Have students complete a variety of activities to illustrate the difficulties and frustrations that come with a learning disability. For example, illustrate visual processing disorders by having students read a passage in a text with the text upside down. Illustrate dysgraphia, difficulty with motor and processing skills, by having students write with their non-dominant hand. To illustrate auditory processing disorders, record a passage and speed up the recording during playback. Have students explain what they heard in the playback.

Amanda Schroeder holds a BS in Hospitality Management from Keuka College and a MSed in Vocational Education from SUNY Oswego. She has experience in restaurant management and is educated in school district business administration. Schroeder is currently teaching business and family and consumer science in New York State.