Disability Awareness: Teaching Kids How Cool We are

Photo taken in a third grade classroom at Braeside School in Highland Park, Illinois (Credit: Ashley Bakal). Shows Beth sitting in a chair with a group of kids sitting on the floor listening to her speak.

Photo taken in a third grade classroom at Braeside School in Highland Park, Illinois (Credit: Ashley Bakal)

Last week, my Seeing Eye dog Luna and I visited three different schools to talk with third graders about guide dogs and what it’s like to be blind. It was great fun, but I got to be honest: two years without any in-person visits to schools left me a little rusty.

During our first presentation, the one at Indian Trail Elementary, I forgot to give Luna the “Outside” command at the end so they could see how well guide dogs maneuver around obstacles (including 3rd graders sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor) to guide me to the door to the hallway.

At the second presentation, the one at Braeside, I never took the Braille version of my children’s book “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound” out of my bag to show them how Braille works.

Third time’s the charm, though: the kids at Ravinia Elementary School got the whole show. And here’s the good news: no matter what I did or did not remember to do in those three presentations, the questions the kids asked afterwards were as thoughtful and sweet as ever. Here’s a sampling from the third-graders Luna and I met at Indian Trail, Braeside and Ravinia elementary schools this past week:

  • So is going blind like closing your eyes for the rest of your life?
  • Do you remember what colors looked like when you were a little kid and could still see?
  • Was it hard to make friends after you were blind?
  • You said you only see the color black, but if you got really, really close to a bright light, would you know the light was on?
  • How do you swim if you can’t see where you’re going?
  • So if you see the color black, but you can tell close up if something is white, does it look brown?
  • Did you ever drown?
  • When you drive, do you, like, have to use, like, a navigator thing or something?
  • So if you still remember colors, when you are imagining things, do you see them in color then?
  • I know we’re not supposed to pet your dog when she’s working, but when you pet her, how does she know it’s you who is petting her?
  • If you don’t drive, then do you take a taxi?
  • How do you get on the plane if pets aren’t allowed on planes?
  • Where does your dog go when you take a taxi?
  • Is your dog blind, too, or just you?
  • Do you inspire other people?

With all of us wearing masks, some of the questions were hard to hear. Did that little boy just ask me if I inspire people? How do third-graders even know the word “inspire?” Repeating his question out loud gave me time to think. These schools all participate in a weeklong ”Disability Awareness” program, and from what I’ve observed, it really works.

Days before my visit, the kids had met a Paralympian who uses a wheelchair to win track and field medals. During her presentation, she showed them how her prosthesis works. “It was really cool!” one of the third-graders told me. After I left, they’d be learning to say “hello” and “My name is…” in sign language. “It’s pretty cool to meet all these people with disabilities,” one of them said.

That was my cue.

Do I inspire people? “Well, I do a lot of things, you know, like go to concerts and eat out at restaurants and swim at the health club and travel in taxis and airplanes. Maybe getting used to seeing me out and about having fun does inspire people to make friends with people who have disabilities,” I said. “Because like you all know, we can be pretty cool.”

And you know what? Those third graders were pretty cool, too.


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    We must remember that people with disabilities are valued members of our communities and want to live, work, and play just like everyone else.

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  7. Nancy Faust Says:

    Beth starts the ball rolling and it gains steam.
    “Mutual Inspirstion Society”-.
    That has a nice ring.
    Thank you.

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