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    By Katy Banahan, Inclusion Committee representative

    October is Disability Rights and Awareness Month. It’s a good time to reflect on what disability means to the Orca community, and how we talk about disability with our children.

    We’ve made some progress in including our students with disabilities in the life of our school. Last year saw two firsts: Orca’s first ever Disability Rights and Awareness display (created by Tracy Appleyard in the Orca Library); and for the first time, students with disabilities attended the MLK Day March, thanks to transportation funding from Orca PTSA.

    We can be proud of these steps, but as a community that says “we all belong” we also have to ask why it took so long for us to achieve these modest milestones. Let’s use the month of October as an opportunity to reflect on how Orca thinks and talks about disability.

    Person-first language matters. Students with disabilities are students first, and that’s how we need to see and talk about them. They aren’t “special ed students,” “disabled kids” or “wheelchair users.” Remind your child that their schoolmates with disabilities are first and foremost their fellow students.

    Questions are okay. Children are curious; it’s how they learn. If your child wonders why a classmate is in a wheelchair, don’t get embarrassed and silence them. This tells the child that disability is frightening, shameful and something to be kept secret. Simply explain that the person needs the chair to get around because their legs don’t work like most people’s legs do.

    Every persons’ abilities are different. Remind your child (and yourself) that everyone has some things they can do, and other things that they can’t. Some people need glasses to see and other people don’t; some people can slam-dunk a basketball but most people can't get high enough to do it; it’s easy for some people to learn a new video game, but takes other people a long time. The same is true of walking, speaking, or writing with a pencil: it’s easy for some people to do those things but not for everybody.

    Being different isn’t tragic. Don’t feel sorry for people with disabilities, and don’t teach your child to feel sorry for their school mates. Diversity is a big part of being human, whether we are talking about race and ethnicity, religion, appearance, or how our bodies work. Diversity makes our school a richer, more interesting place. Orca students with disabilities are part of that richness. This month, make a conscious effort to make sure that they are a genuine part of the “all” who belong.

    "See the able not the label" sign

    Want some reading recommendations?

    from our librarian, Tracy Appleyard

    I’ve included some of my favorite books located in the Orca library that feature characters with disabilities. These books have resonated with our students and teachers! Our Inclusion Committee has generously donated excellent titles to make our library more inclusive, and our collection continues to grow! Enjoy!

    We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, is a picture book about welcoming a new sibling with Down syndrome. An older sister searches for ways to connect with her little brother.

    Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls, is a picture book biography of a little boy in Ghana who is born with only one strong leg. He rides his bike for four hundred miles spreading the message that “disability doesn’t mean inability.”

    A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, is a picture book autobiography, about a wildlife conservationist. He started his life with an uncontrollable stutter and became one of the most outspoken voices in defense of animals.

    Out of my Mind by Sharen M. Draper, is a popular book for middle grades. 11-year old Melody has cerebral palsy and with the help of a technological device she is able to communicate.

    You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner, is a middle school book about deaf culture. Julia, the main character gets expelled from her school for deaf students and has to navigate being deaf in a mainstream high school.