Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Friends Who Care: Teaching Children about Disabilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Friends Who Care: Teaching Children about Disabilities

Article excerpt

As a first-year special education teacher in the late 60s, Sandy Gordon was appalled at the way her students were treated. "My kids were basically ostracized," she remembers. "Not only did other kids make fun of them, but so did the teachers and the principal. I saw what it did to their self-esteem. It was hortifying." Gordon vowed that someday she would do something to change things.

In 1987, as a senior vice president for corporate communications at the National Easter Seal Society, Gordon saw her opportunity to make a difference. Campbell-Mithun-Esty (CME) Advertising, Minneapolis had offered to provide creative services at no charge for Easter Seals' multi-media public service advertising campaigns. In the first months of this collaboration, Gordon and CME designed Easter Seals' friends Who Care television and radio public service spots, print ads and posters.

Originally targeted to middle school students, the multimedia campaign generated hundreds of requests from elementary schools for materials to use in disability-awareness workshops. A grant from Ronald McDonald Children's Charities allowed Gordon and her staff to begin developing a hands-on teaching curriculum for elementary students.

In 18 months of research, writing and classroom testing, priorities for the Friends Who Care curriculum became apparent. First, the program had to use humor and an "in-your-face" approach to challenge negative attitudes about disabilities. Second, it had to provide essential information about the types of disabilities students were likely to encounter, and about the range of abilities within each disability. Third, enhancing the curriculum and helping people get beyond stereotypes and sympathy required guest speakers with disabilities; curriculum planners created guidelines for students and teachers to invite people with disabilities to talk about how they do things. This proved especially effective in allowing kids to see Brailled magazines, try out TTYs (which enable people who are deaf to use the telephone), learn words in sign language or see and touch racing wheelchairs.

In the fall of 1990, the Friends Who Care disability-awareness program was introduced to 20,000 schools nationwide. Kits included a 16-page teacher's guide--written in a style that would inform teachers without insulting them; a pre- and post-program attitudes survey; worksheets to expand the activities for sections on vision, hearing, learning, developmental and physical disabilities; guidelines for guest speakers; five posters; bookmarks with tips for disability etiquette and a 45-minute videotape to accompany specific activities. …

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