I mentioned in an earlier post that I was preparing to give a presentation to younger students in the school about disabilities. Well – I finally did it! And, honestly, it turned out to be one of the highlights of my year.
One of the primary teachers at my school approached me with the idea of giving a presentation to educate children on people with disabilities after reading certain posts on my blog. She was angry at some of the ableism that I had faced and wanted to help me make a difference by educating the younger generation. The plan was for me to give a thirty-minute presentation to four different groups of ten to eleven-year-olds: I’d have around twenty minutes for the actual presentation and then ten minutes to answer questions.
I started to freak out as the date of the presentation drew nearer. I truly wanted to do this presentation right, and I knew that what I was going to say would probably have a big impact on the kids. My brain shut down the day before and I almost called the whole thing off. Luckily, my sister and mother helped me to calm down and convinced me to go through with it. On the day of the presentation, I took a few calming breaths, discarded most of my wooden-sounding notes, and entered the first presentation with nothing more than a few pictures, a piece of paper, a pen, and a heart full of passion.
I surprised myself with how easy the words came and how natural I sounded. Of course, I still followed the plan that I had made, but most of what I said came from the heart instead. I loved watching the children as I made my talk. You could see the transformation in their eyes from the moment I first rolled into the room: At first, their curious eyes scanned every part of me, examining me and my foreign body with caution. But by the time the presentation was over, they all looked at me normally, like I was just another student at the school. Like I was their equal, and they had nothing to fear. Before I had even heard any feedback, I could see, physically, that my words were having an impact on the way that these children viewed and accepted me.
Some of the Things That I Talked About
I split the presentation into different questions like: ‘What are disabilities?’ And ‘Why are some people disabled?’ I answered the latter by saying (from rough memory): “Most people think that people can only be disabled by accidents like a car accident or falling from somewhere up high and hurting yourself. And, yes, some people are disabled because of accidents – but actually, a lot of people are simply born disabled.
So, the answer is: because we’re all different. Look around the room. Some people can be born with blonde hair, others with brown hair, some people have black skin and some have white, people can be tall, or people can be short. Well, just like that, people can be born with two arms and two legs like most of you in here – Or they can be born with only one arm, or only one leg, or maybe they’re born with curled fingers and legs like me. There is so much variety in the world, and we’re all different, but at the same time – we’re all human underneath. So: when most people see me, they assume that something happened to me or that there’s something wrong with me – But really, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me: I’m just different.”
I also told them a little bit about my own life story: like how instead of crying every day after I lost the ability to use my hands – I taught myself how to draw with a pen in my mouth. I showed them some of my drawings and even gave them a little ‘mouth-drawing’ demonstration which they really loved 😊.
In addition, I taught them about the way that I was treated in society and why it was tough. My blog came in very handy, as I was able to steal and use some of the advice that I had already written on here about how to approach disabled people.
I altered the advice so that most of it was in a way that they could understand. For instance, I talked about disabled children in the playground and how you shouldn’t be scared of them and should invite them over to play, how you should ask them their limits, and how you can be creative in how you include them, etc. Other than that, a lot of it was trying to make them understand how it would feel like if they were treated differently because of their bodies by giving them more examples that they would understand. Like how bad it feels to be stared at or pointed at on a bad hair day.
I ended by showing them some examples of disabled representation in children’s media and the disabled toys from my Christmas post. It was great seeing their reactions to the toys, and many of them had seen the shows that I talked about. It was handy doing the presentation so many times because I was able to remember phrases that had worked well during the previous presentation so that I could make sure to include them in the next one. Some presentations worked better than others, and some audiences were more willing to interact – But either way, I truly felt as if I was positively impacting the children. When someone like me enters a room, it’s often an experience that is rarely easy to forget, so I used that to my advantage.
One of the best parts of the presentation was at the end when the children asked questions. The questions that they asked were such intelligent and sophisticated ones, about society and my life. There were practical questions like how I used the bathroom or how I got onto aeroplanes with my wheelchair; some children wanted to know if they, or people that they knew, could be considered as disabled; and there were some deep questions about my life and my feelings. That day was actually the first time that someone asked me: ‘If you could be cured? Would you want to be?’ I had never even considered that until then!
I told the students that they were free to ask me anything – anything at all. I love answering questions from children because it helps to educate them. There’s nothing that a child could ask that would insult me – it’s all just curiosity. I did tell them that not everyone would be as willing to talk about their disability as me, but that they should still be brave enough to ask and find out for themselves. Because the best source to find out things like this is from disabled people themselves.
After the presentation, the teacher gave me drawings and letters that the children had made for me. Every single letter meant so much to me and filled me with joy. Some of them had made incredible drawings of characters in wheelchairs, some had written saying that when they were older, they wanted to invent devices to help disabled people, some promised to include a character in a wheelchair in their next story. It felt incredible to see all of these young people so interested in the disabled community. I think it’s safe to say that if a disabled girl joined their year (grade), she’d have a very different experience than my own.
So yes, even though it sounds obnoxious of me – I’m proud of what I did that day. I’m proud for giving it a try even though the presentations that I had previously done to my own class went so badly. I’m proud of myself for speaking so openly, despite being a shy and awkward person. I’m proud because, even though my presentation probably won’t mean anything to some of the children after a week’s time, it still felt as if I had done something important that day.
My new dream is to keep giving talks, to keep trying to change things through more presentations, my stories, and my blog. I love giving my community a voice, and I’ve decided to devote my future career and my life to it. It might sound silly and insincere coming from a teenager: but I’m not going to stop writing and speaking until I feel like real change has happened. And believe me, feeling as if you’ve ‘made a difference’ is an extremely rewarding and absolutely exhilarating feeling to experience.
See you next week!