Disability Awareness: A gift for your use!

I have been amazed by the amount of progress that has been made during the last thirty plus years in our approaches with special needs students. I feel I can make that statement because, as a student seeking a special education degree those many years ago, I remember when laws such as Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), also known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), had just been passed. We were in the beginning stages of learning how to best educate students in a “least restrictive environment.” I believe that in the Christian education community we are making significant progress with both educating students in inclusive settings and building understanding and appreciation for inclusive students with our entire student populations.

I am delighted to pass along a gift to you and your schools from a former colleague of mine, Dr. Kathleen VanTol, education professor at Dordt College in the areas of Special Education and Teaching English Language Learners. Her students have put together a 24 page Disability Awareness Unit suitable for use in K-8 schools. Each grade will study a different disability and there are devotionals and a 15 minutes a day lessons that include teaching ideas, video links, and interactive activities.

This unit is very timely – below is the introduction the students included with the unit:

Inclusive Schools Week is the first week of December. Inclusive Schools Week is an annual event that celebrates students who have disabilities while encouraging all students to acknowledge that students are more alike than different!  Making our students more aware of disabilities is one way that they can see things from others’ perspectives.  Working to make our schools more inclusive is a constant goal.  Knowing more about different disabilities will help students become more prepared to be inclusive of children with disabilities within their own classrooms as well as through daily interactions outside of the classroom.

Many thanks to Dr. VanTol and Dordt students for sharing this great resource!


Filed under change, classroom, community, curriculum, devotional, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources

24 responses to “Disability Awareness: A gift for your use!

  1. Bob Van Wieren

    Thanks for sharing Dr. VanTol’s disability awareness unit with us, Dan. Well done, Dr. VanTol. The only thing better than a unit like this is to live with children who have the disabilities explored in this unit. Six of our grandchildren attend Byron Center Christian where God’s kingdom is experienced in its fullness. Our grandchildren live, play, and are friends with kids who experience these disabilities in their lives. To our grandkids their friends don’t have disabilities, this is just who they are. I’d urge all our Christian schools to explore how they can be inclusive of all God’s children.

  2. prof post

    Thanks so much for this post and this creative idea shared by Dr. VanTol. I am excited to share this with my Trinity pre-service teachers who also happen to be completing 50 hours of teacher aiding at Elim Christian School where they have been immersed in helping, caring for and befriending students with all sorts of the disabilities as described in the “inclusion week” materials. I am interested to get their take on this idea and have asked them to each comment on a particular grade level. Thanks again for the idea and stimulus for good conversation (and action).

  3. Allison Karlock

    I think that this unit is a great idea! As a student myself I was unaware of what why certain students were pulled out of my classroom and where they went. Introducing students to different disabilities can help them relate to those students and to make them feel welcome. I especially looked at the 2nd grade materials. I thought that the devotionals were chosen well and really portrayed the message of each person being made in God’s image and being unique. This is a common theme we have discussed throughout my special education courses. I also loved the idea of having 2nd graders learning about sign language. I think that this is something that they will enjoy a lot. Finally having the students create a brochure at the end of the unit really ties everything together well. Overall I thought this was a wonderful awareness unit and I can see how it could greatly benefit schools in learning more about disabilities in a fun and creative way.

  4. Janna Ottenhoff

    This unit is an excellent to increase awareness of disabilities in schools! I really enjoyed reading the devotions that were written to go with this unit. Max Lucado is one of my favorite Christian authors and I think it’s so cool that his work was included in some of the devotions for the week. I think his work entitled You are Special is especially important to include when talking about the awareness of students with disabilities because it illustrates how we are to treat one another as God wants us to. This work really speaks to students of all ages and conveys the message that we are to treat one another with respect and view ourselves as made in God’s image. I also took a look at the materials included for seventh grade. I think that this unit is important for this age group because it focuses on the disability of Down Syndrome and how students with this disability are just like everyone else. It really focuses on explaining how students with Down Syndrome learn and how their disability affects their daily lives. I really liked this unit because I have taken an interest in how students with Down Syndrome learn. Like Dr. Post stated above, I have completed my aiding hours at Elim and have worked with a student with Down Syndrome. I have learned so much from him and have really enjoyed working with him. I think that it’s important to not only increase awareness of disabilities in the classroom, but also inform students on different disabilities and how their disability affects their lives outside of the classroom as well. This unit is a great way of informing students in a fun, educational, and inspiring way.

  5. Lori Byma

    I love the idea of teaching a unit on different disabilities! I really appreciated the devotions and how they focused on the fact that we are all made in God’s image. I also really like that a couple of books by Max Lucado are used because they are such wonderful resources with great messages. I also focused on the 2nd grade materials that focus on Deafness Awareness. I really liked how it goes into explaining what deafness is, what it means when someone is deaf, and reasons for deafness. This gives students a much stronger understanding of what is going on. I ao really liked the cochlear implant simulation. When listening to the video, students gain an understanding of what it sounds like to be a person who uses cochlear implants. This allows the students to sort of put themselves into the place of someone who may be deaf and to understand what they deal with on a daily basis. It allows students to relate better to those who may be deaf. I also liked that a whole day is spent talking about how the 2nd graders can include deaf students in their classroom. The students can learn some sign language and learn some do’s and don’ts of communicating with someone who is deaf. I think that this is really important and I appreciate that it is in the lesson. Students at this age may have a hard time understanding deafness and how to be a friend to someone who is deaf, but I think this lesson does a great job of walking through this information with students in a fun and interesting way. I think it would be great to see schools all over implementing a disabilities awareness unit into their classrooms!

  6. Katie Gesch

    I looked over the 5th grade unit of seizure disorder awareness. First of all, what a fantastic idea! It is hard for me to think of appropriate ways to talk to classes about what makes us different, and as a future sped teacher, this is something that is going to come up an awful lot. With something like a seizure disorder, many students, especially at the fifth grade level might not have a clear idea of what a seizure is, so I really appreciated that the students are able to build on whatever knowledge they have about seizures, or correct their perceptions if they aren’t accurate. This too is done in a very skillful way through the reading of a book, which gives the children an opportunity to learn on their own and not be spotlighted for getting the definition wrong. I love that students have the opportunity to learn independently throughout this entire unit. It calls for a lot of self reflection and empathy development. My favorite part about the whole unit is the devotions. Diversity is something that frequents conversation at Trinity, and I think that this targets the deepest level of diversity. It conveys that God created everyone different, not to punish people, but simply because if everyone were the same it would not benefit everyone. Everyone was given different gifts, struggles, and ultimately a purpose. Just because someone might have something different about them that is a little more noticeable than others doesn’t mean that God loves them any less or more than He loves the next person. This love that God shows for all people is a wonderful way to teach appreciation and love for those that are a little different than our definition of normal. I definitely hope to implement a unit like this into my future classroom. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Kaylee Wilson

    I have two opinions about educating students about different disabilities or disorders during inclusion week. To begin with, I think that this is a great opportunity to educate students about disabilities that they may encounter, either inside or outside of school. By teaching these disabilities through the use of the Bible, students will see that a disability is part of God’s plan. As the packet states, “He does not make mistakes. Even though we are all different, we are still perfectly us.” This may help students understand the importance of accepting different disabilities and understanding what they mean for the individuals who have them.
    On the other hand, I do not think that this is the best idea for schools to pursue. Having a week dedicated to educating students on disabilities is almost singling people with disabilities out. Are we trying to teach our students that a disability may define a person? Although this may not be the goal, I believe that some students may get this impression. Instead of having a disability week, I think that integrating the lesson objectives into different subjects throughout the school year may be more effective. For example, these lessons could be used throughout the school year in Bible class, including the use of speakers in chapel. The students would learn the same messages as compared to the lessons being completed in one week.
    Furthermore, I like the lesson plan for Wednesday concerning Seizure Disorders for 5th grade. I specifically chose to look at these lesson plans because I just finished teacher aiding in a classroom that has many students who have seizure disorders. I like that the lesson forces the students to connect to how a person with a seizure disorder feels everyday. This makes the lesson more meaningful and worthwhile for the students in the classroom.

  8. Nate Hendrikse

    This unit is a great idea and really has been well thought out. Many times students and individuals in general, even adults are scared or awkward around things that they know nothing about. I think this is very true when the average person spends time with someone with special needs. Since they haven’t been educated about what certain disabilities are or proper etiquette around someone with a wheelchair, they are frightened and overly cautious or nervous when spending time with someone with a disability. By educating students all through grade school, schools are hopefully taking the first step in getting rid of this lack of knowledge. Hopefully this unit will also help students to become more loving to their peers who have various disabilities. Children are apt to make fun of what is different, through the learning that happens in this lesson I think students will really be able to understand their classmates who may learn in different ways or act differently sometimes. I was able to look over the 4th grade Speech and Language Impairments unit and my favorite part of this unit is that the students practice speaking with marshmallows in their mouths; giving them a feel for what it is like to try to have a normal conversation when your mouth and tongue might not be acting like you want them to. I have found out in my classes so far that experiences like this are the most powerful. These experiences give us a small glimpse at what living with a disability really is and how it affects life. Finally, I really appreciated how the unit progressed from day to day, building on the knowledge the students learned the previous days. At first, they heard a story involving a child with a disability, they eventually moved on to actually learning about the disability and what it involved, followed by critical thinking related to what living with a disability would be like.

  9. Rebecca Verhage

    After reading the article, I think that there are some really good ideas for promoting disability awareness, however, I am not sure devoting a whole week or unit on disabilities is a good idea. I think that it is important for students to understand what different disabilities are and it is often helpful to the student with the disability when their peers understand. On the other hand, devoting a whole unit to talk about disabilities may unintentionally single those students out which is probably not the best idea. I looked at the first grade unit on blindness awareness. It was an interesting unit and one that I think could be usefully implemented in a classroom that has a students with blindness. The one lesson I really like was one were students had to navigate the classroom after it had been rearranged while wearing a blindfold. Students had to navigate this poorly arranged room with the help of their partner. This activity was meant to help students realize how to give good directions and, more importantly, how necessary it is for all students in the classroom to help keep it neat so that there are no safety hazards the student who is blind has to avoid. Talking about disabilities that are present in the classroom is important so that students learn to work together and help each when needed.

  10. Sarah Rodgers

    I like the fact that we can educate people about different disabilities that exist in the world. Regardless if a person has a disability or not, everyone wants to be included in what is happening around each of us. We do not want to stick out. Because of this, I love the teaching of different disabilities. At my church, there are several children with special needs, and they are included in all the activities with everyone. I actually witnessed one teenager with autism get baptized this past spring. It was so inspiring to see the work that God had done in his life even though he had a disability. I know that when I watched him get baptized, I did not know what to do. It was so amazing to watch God work in this boy’s life and that God had given him the courage to share his testimony for the whole church. There is another little boy that has Down Syndrome, and he goes to the preschool children’s time. He always loves to pray and is upset when people stop praying. He believes that we should all pray nonstop. Through this little boy, I can see God’s handiwork in him and it is enhanced through his disability—God can use everything for His glory. Because of these experiences, I like that there is awareness about various disabilities. People with disabilities should be included in various activities because God is doing a work through each person regardless if they have a disability or not.

  11. Kylee Hall

    After reading this article, I am very pleased to see this curriculum plan. I think it is amazing that they are beginning to educate students on disabilties. My brother and sister both have disabilities and growing up this was hard to face when going to school. Everyone asked me what was “wrong”with my brother and as his sister this was hard for me because I didn’t see anything “wrong” with my brother. He was just different. I am glad to see that schools are trying to make sure that this is shown. I wish my school would have made this a part of their curriculum. I think it would have saved my brother from some cruel remarks and mean behavior. I think it would have also given me some more support with growing up with a brother who had some challenges. I think it is important to see that people with disabilities are people and have feelings. They are just different like everyone is. I am really blessed to see this curriculum and hope students embrace it and really change their views.

  12. Robyn Covert

    I think that this unit plan is a great idea. I’m sure all of our future students, whether they are regular education students or if they are students with disabilities, will have many questions as to why they are different than others and why they may not be able to comprehend things the way others do. It can be a very difficult to deal with these things as a student and is important to address it.
    I really enjoyed the Tuesday devotion with the body cut-out. It’s important to let each student know that no matter how small they are, they are still important. The devotion focuses on the small, yet helpful parts of our bodies like eyelashes and toenails. One would think that they aren’t that important for our bodies, but they do some really important things! Connecting this to the classroom and the students is a great idea because students are able to see that they are just as important as the student next to them and that everyone is made in God’s image, no matter their differences.
    Overall, the lessons are a great idea for raising disability awareness. Through these lessons, students are able to experience what it is like to have a disability, and maybe they will learn to appreciate or respect their peers more. In another one of my classes, we used a website that did something similar to this.


    On this site, we were able to do activities that helped us feel what it was like to try to learn with a disability. This site was very shocking and beneficial for us. It allowed us see how hard it really is for students to concentrate to learn and how important it is to differentiate so that they all can succeed.
    Thanks for sharing these lessons with us, they can be very helpful in the future!

  13. april grant

    I recently became a student again pursuing a masters degree in Special Education. As an undergrad, a requirement of the program was a course in Introduction to Special Education. After taking that course I knew that when the time was right to return to school, that was the area I wanted to be of service in. As of December I completed my first semester of grad school and I am eager to continue. My prof shared this blog with us and I am so glad to give kudos to the developers of the Disabilities Awareness Week lesson plan. What wonderful and engaging activities for students to become an aware community of all of the members in it. Sharing and celebrating likenesses and differences and with love and acceptance. I hope that schools adopt this plan as part of their curriculum as the inclusion numbers continue to rise. Keep up the GOOD work!

    • Thanks, April, Robyn, and all of you have taken the time to comment on this post and to also share resources and ideas!

      • Paula Parker

        This curriculum unit on disability awareness is a positive and creative way to implement various activities for students to gain understanding and knowing about different disabilities. This site is a great avenue to develop knowledge not only in school but at various settings such as church, community centers, and also a night out with families so that we all can be mindful and respectful of all. I do believe that knowledge is power! Building and fostering positive relationships with all people is one way to start. The creator of this unit had a great vision on integrating a building a community of understanding. One writer stated in an earlier post a “well thought out” lesson plans. As I continue to pursue my educational journey as a Special Education teacher, utilizing many of the various activities that were designed in the curriculum creates meaningful and suitable lessons for any grade level. This site is a great resource that will allow me to communicate and advocate for all.

  14. Vince Lucca

    I think promoting awareness of disabilities at an early age is a great idea. I am 32 years old and went to a Catholic Grade School K-8. I don’t ever recall any discussions or lessons occuring that discussed disabilities, gave examples of them, and tried to help relate the topic to our lives. Luckily, my parents raised me right to accept everyone and the differences they have but I had no real experience with the topic of the disabled. This unit plan is a great tool that can be used to discuss disabilities. This movement needs to be continued at an early age. Even in this day when we have made such progess with students with disabilties, there are still a lot of ignorent people out there. If anyone has been following the Super Bowl coverage this week, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens made a comment describing something as “retarded”. That term is still used too loosely today by much of society. If we are able to promote understanding and knowledge of disabilities, then everyone is better for it. People are not offended in situations where it is not needed. Acceptance is easier to attain, which should help people with disabilities assimilate better into every day life and get rid of some of the ridicule/hatred that is in the world. I am for anything that is for equality for all.

  15. Dan matt

    I think this a great idea. Often times in schools we celebrate diversity, but do so with limited awareness. I feel that this curriculum unit is an interesting and useful way to go a little deeper into our understanding of disabilities. It is a great benefit to our students as they can grow as tolerant and loving people, but it is also a great reminder to teachers and other staff as well. The only way we can truly grow as people is to understand, and this unit does a great job of helping us understand. It is a great educational tool for students and staff, alike. As April said, the more we move towards inclusion I think that it is vital that we incorporate more of these types of lessons/units. I know I will definitely recommend something like this to be started at my school.

  16. Bill Scott

    I think that making the general public aware of disabilities eventually helps those with disabilities in the long run, and it also helps the general public to accept, help, and live side by side without the stigma that those with disabilities have lived with for many years. I work in a high school where the students with disabilities are in as many classes with their peers as possible. The students without disabilities genuinely accept these students and care about them as well. I see mutual friendships that are built between able bodied jock type students and students relegated to wheelchairs with cerebral palsy. We have a class where students who are interested in working in special education can take and they in turn get to work with the low incidence disability students. This is a powerful experience for these students and they love it. They really cherish the moments they get to work with the low incidence students and I think this is a great experience.
    I think with students with disabilities being educated in the least restrictive environment it has created an environment that these so called able bodied students are in the same classrooms as the students with disabilities from a young age and they think this is normal. That is a far cry from 20 years ago when the students with disabilities were secluded and there was a stigma associated with them, people were “afraid” of the people with disabilities.
    The change in mindset for our society is a wonderful thing and it will affect everyone at some point. I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with students with disabilities and I just hope that everyone has the opportunity to open their minds and hearts to get to know someone with a disability because it really is a blessing.

  17. Barb Wolterink

    I am working toward my master’s degree in special education and am excited that there is such a thing as Inclusive Schools Week! What a great way to stop some of the bullying that goes on in our schools. Schools have come such a long way from where they used to be. I love the idea of having different grades focus on different disabilities. I think all children should be exposed to what disabilities are and realize how unique each individual is. You have included many wonderful ideas to get children to really think about and empathize with students with disabilities and how they may feel when being excluded or treated differently because of their looks or abilities.
    I reviewed the kindergarten lesson plans and thought you had a wonderful idea to use M&M’s to represent how we are different on the outside but have similarities on the inside. This is an age appropriate concept, and I hope to use this idea as well as others with my preschoolers. Thank you!

  18. Dennis Brumirski

    As have many of the people who have posted a reply to the unit that you have shared, I am a member of Trinity Christian College’s first cohort pursuing a Master’s in Special Education. I am happy to have been introduced to both this unit and this blog. Perhaps it’s appropriate to admit that I never would have sought out either of these resources without the direction of Dr. Post, who is one of our current teachers. That being said, the significance of this is not lost on me and I am sure it is not lost on any of my classmates. Essentially, unless Dr. Post directed us here, we never would have been exposed to this information. Similarly, your unit accomplishes the same goal in its desire to expose students to various disabilities. Thanks for this. We need more individuals who are forcing society to confront and discuss issues that would not otherwise be exposed to. Keep up the excellent work, and thank you for sharing a resource we can all use and discuss.

  19. The unit that these future teachers developed on awareness about disabilities is a wonderful idea. I believe that education is very powerful. This unit provides an opportunity for a teacher to educate her students about various disabilities. These students then get to teach others in their school what they have learned. The world that we live in is very diverse, and it is so important for people to be educated about those differences. Educating students about disabilities will allow them to use that knowledge to gain understanding and hopefully make the choice to include those with disabilities. I believe the interactive activities that were chosen for these lessons allow students to really learn about and appreciate what those with disabilities have to deal with in their daily lives. Education is the key to eliminating ignorance, and I truly believe that more people would be accepting of those with disabilities if they had a better understanding of how to help them.

  20. Laura Ridgley

    Thank you for this wonderful gift! I had not heard of Inclusive Schools Week but I think it’s a great idea. People fear what they don’t understand. This can play out in a number of ways such as avoidance or bullying. Many people feel uncomfortable around people with disabilities because they can’t see past the disability to the person. They are more focused on the differences than the ways in which they are alike. This is the reason we have to teach kids about disabilities, once they understand what makes a person with a disability different from them; they realize that the difference is really very small in comparison. I wish every school would incorporate lessons like these into the curriculum at every grade level. I thought these lessons were well constructed and they provided links to some very helpful resources. Thanks! Great job!

  21. Michele Kintz

    Congratulations on a fantastic goal! Equality for all is wonderful to thrive for and I would love to see it in my lifetime. I have seen immense progress this school year. Our district is renting a classroom to a class of low incidence students. Many of the disabilities the students have are not seen regularly by my students who have been in the general education public school realm their entire life. My students are more kind then I had imagined they would be with society being what it is today. I am so proud of how they interact with these students in the hall and at lunch. I know that when I was in school many horrible unkind words would have been whispered and sadly shouted. I believe that sites such as these are leading to the awareness, kindness, and equality that we are working for. Thank you for the contributions!

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