Another person's shoes

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Children can take their senses and abilities for granted, so removing one temporarily can help them understand what it's like living with a disability, says Michael Webster

Children can take their senses and abilities for granted, so removing one temporarily can help them understand what it's like living with a disability, says Michael Webster

What does it mean to have a disability? How does it feel? This is the basis of a citizenship lesson for Year 8, where I get pupils to think about the day-to-day effect it would have on their lives.

We talk about what they understand about the subject, and then I unveil a practical exercise - carrying out a task as if they have certain disabilities.

Pupils are divided into teams of four, each team member with a different disability. One person is blindfolded; another has one arm tied behind his or her back; the third is unable to speak and the fourth has his or her ears covered.

Working together, the pupils have to produce a picture of a countryside scene. They are given a piece of paper (preferably a flipchart), scissors, glue, coloured card and felt tip pens and some cotton wool to represent sheep.

The activity lasts 15 minutes, after which we discuss what it feels like for each individual, what the barriers are and how they can overcome them.

What did you hope to achieve from this lesson?

The aim is for pupils to feel some of what a disabled person may experience when undertaking a simple task, things that people without disabilities would perhaps take for granted.

It's important to arrange the groups carefully to ensure the right mix of pupils. You should also make sure to strike the right balance between fun and serious - it's a potentially messy exercise, but you should remind them of the serious message behind it.

Why would you recommend this to other teachers?

It is a great teamwork exercise, particularly for pupils who get along less well together, or those who lack empathy. They responded really well, enjoying a shared task and the chance to work as a team with a difference.

It brought out different skills for different pupils, who responded in ways not previously seen in the classroom. Occasionally, they got over- excited and broke out of character but, for the most part, they stuck to their roles.

Resource

Talk is an award-winning 12-minute film that challenges misconceptions about disability. It can be ordered from the Disability Rights Commission (www.equalityhumanrights.com) and comes with lesson plans.

Michael Webster is citizenship co-ordinator at Witherslack Hall School in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria.

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