Meeting peers with disabilities may be a new experience for your students. The suggestions below can help prepare your students to interact with their new friends with kindness and respect.
Children are naturally curious and will often ask questions of peers with disabilities. For example, if your students have never spoken to a person in a wheelchair, it is natural for them to ask questions about this. Using these techniques, you can introduce your students to a person with disabilities before your Empatico exchange:
1) Use videos or literature to introduce your students to peers with disabilities. For example, Just Like You is a YouTube Channel with several short films about children with disabilities, with an emphasis on helping youth discover their similarities. Book recommendations include:
- All Are Welcome Here, by Alexandra Penfold [YouTube read-aloud]
- Since We’re Friends, by Celeste Shally [YouTube read-aloud]
- Ian’s Walk: A Story About Autism, by Laurie Lears
- El Deafo, by CeCe Bell
- Rules, by Cynthia Lord
2) Provide opportunities to socialize with students at your own school who have disabilities.
3) Consider inviting students with disabilities to participate in a collaborative art project or social event. In these situations, you will notice which “general education” students are most comfortable. These students will model a caring attitude for the rest of your class during that social event. They can also go first during your Empatico exchanges to set a tone of friendliness and kindness.
4) Prepare students for certain situations and practice appropriate responses. For tips on how to approach differences with kindness, see our Teacher Tips video.
Suggestions for educators who teach students with disabilities:
1) Set expectations by using this video to introduce why your class is using Empatico and what to expect during the video exchange with their partner class.
2) Incorporate sign language throughout your Empatico experience to create an inclusive space.
3) Introduce key vocabulary words for your Empatico activity. For students who use Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA) machines, consider adding these vocabulary words to their devices.
4) Involve students’ caregivers to help them prepare responses for what to share during the exchange with their partner class.
5) Incorporate visuals into your Empatico exchange.