How should I talk to my children when they ask about disability and difference? – by Eliza Ault-Connell AM

13 December 2019

“Mummy look at that ladies legs”.

Each and every time I set foot in public I can be assured of two things. Comments from children who say it as they see it. Parents madly trying to hush their child to avoid an awkward moment or hoping that I may not have heard what their child had said.

The innocence of a child's comments in relation to disability and diversity provide a wonderful provocation if parents choose to see the situation as a learning opportunity. This, in reality, can mean setting aside the judgment and the preconceived notions of disability and difference that we feel as adults. As a mother of three who lives with a disability, I would like to see more parents take ownership of the process of empowering their children with knowledge as well as compassion for difference.

Using affirmative language around ability is critical and recognising that difference is healthy, and diversity in human society is an essential ingredient to make up of our lives. We should use these observations to foster a dialogue around awareness instead of allowing fears of difference to be harboured. 

How we can do this in 5 simple steps:

1. Let children know that disability isn't bad. We often look at our differences when in actual fact we share more characteristics as humans than differences!

2. Allow and encourage children to ask questions - How else do we learn unless we ask? Make sure we use appropriate terminology and recognise disability as a healthy and normal part of our community.

3. Separate the person from what their difference is so the child can see them as an equal and valued member of society. People are more than just their disability. Instead of saying “that person is in a wheelchair”, try “they use a wheelchair to move around just like we do”!

4. Talk about how disability and difference can look different on each individual and how we shouldn’t make assumptions or comparisons.

5. Lead by example. Interact with people who have disabilities as you would with others. If our children see us interacting with compassion and in a nurturing manner, they will be more likely to replicate this behaviour when they encounter someone who is different.

"We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”

- Maya Angelou



About the Writer:

Eliza Ault-Connell AM, is a wife, mother of three, Para Athlete and lover of life. Born and raised in Sydney Australia, she is an advocate for Meningococcal Disease awareness, positive body image and diversity and inclusion. In her spare time, Eliza loves to be active, out on the water, up a mountain and taking in life. Currently, Eliza is working toward racing for Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.


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