Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

6 Oct 2011Some of the biggest misconceptions about people with a disability stems from lack of knowledge towards them... People, who don’t personally know someone with a disability, can make false judgements about their capabilities in life. The only thing that will change these fallacies and break stereo-type’s, is awareness, awareness, awareness! And, the younger this begins, the better.

Last year, I teamed up with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, to embark on a wonderful disability awareness program, called ‘Just Like You!’. This program is aimed at primary school children, aged from 9 – 11, and is compiled in a way that appeals to younger audiences, and shows them how someone with a disability is the same as them, but may have to do things a little differently to what they are used to.

I usually present to around 20 children at a time, and I’m accompanied by an able-bodied co-presenter who works for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. The presentation is in two parts, presented in two consecutive weeks, and each presentation goes for an hour and a half.

When I begin, I always introduce myself, and tell them why I’m in a wheelchair, and that I’ve had over 300 broken bones ect. Then I tell them about my job and how I drive, and all the wonderful things I’ve accomplished in my life.

In one part of the presentation, we ask the children to tell us what words they think of when they see a disabled person. We encourage negative words, such as spastic or retard, but usually the children are a bit shy so they don’t always come out with such harsh terms. We normally get ‘sad’, ‘lonely’, ‘can’t do anything’, I love this part, because I get the chance to let them see that these words don’t necessarily apply to people with disabilities. I always ask the kids if they think I’m sad, lonely or if they think that I can’t do anything... Sometimes, they say yes, (which is my favourite part, because I get to tell them about all the magnificent things I have in my life), I tell them about my pets, my friends, my fiancé, how I’m getting married, my family, my job, and the freedom that I have despite my disability. By the end of this, they start to change their way of thinking, and realise that just because someone lives with a disability, it doesn’t mean that they can’t still enjoy all the great things in life.

It makes me feel so satisfied, that I have made a difference to how these children will view disabled people in the future. At the end of some of my presentations, I’ve had some kids hug me, ask for my autograph and tell me that they’re so glad they met me, it’s just lovely!

I think it’s a really important program to have in the school system. Kids mimic their parent’s behaviour, so if a parent hasn’t had anything to do with someone with a disability, then their child will grow up the same, but this is an excellent way of breaking the cycle, and starting some positive change for the future.

I found an article from a South Australian media website, in Adelaide Now, about a young man with cerebral palsy, who is part of a very similar program, but for high school students.

Craig Sparre, uses a wheelchair and said he always felt like people judged him growing up, but he knew that he was the same as them.

Craig is now part of a disability awareness program run by SCOSA (Spastic Centre Of South Australia), and his first presentation was to a group of year 7 girls, from St Peters Girls School. One of the girls, Georgina, said after the talk ‘It's a good way to experience how people are all the same and that you shouldn't judge people by their cover’, this just goes to show that she took away the best possible message from this program.

To read the original story from Adelaide Now, go to: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/he-might-have-cerebral-palsy-but-craig-sparre-is-anything-but-disabled/story-e6frea83-1226154376284 and if you’re interested in hearing more about the ‘Just Like You!’ program in NSW, just send me an email, or you can visit: http://www.cerebralpalsy.org.au/our-services/schools/just-like-you to see if your child’s school is eligible for a free visit from me or one of our many other great disability awareness volunteers.

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