Written by Lisa Friedman, Matan’s Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks.
It’s not hard to teach our children to be accepting of disabilities. Children are naturally eager and excited to learn new things. Like sponges, they quickly absorb new words, concepts and ideas. Adults have the ability to model inclusive behavior for children every day.
From Leviticus we learn, “Do not insult a person who is deaf or put a stumbling block in front of someone who is blind.” At face value, this seems so logical; some might even argue obvious. Who among us would intentionally place a physical barrier in front of a person who is blind? And yet, we do it all the time. We teach children to be unwelcoming, wary or even fearful of people with disabilities, sometimes without even realizing it. Children learn through imitation and, as they grow older, form habits and opinions by repeating what they see and hear. It is essential for each of us to be consistently mindful of our words and actions.
When an adult walks past someone in a wheelchair, turning his head to the side to avoid making eye contact, the child next to him learns to avoid interactions with people in wheelchairs.
When a woman parks in a handicapped spot in a parking lot, she is teaching the children in her car that the needs of those who truly require such spots are insignificant.
When a woman deliberately avoids the checkout line at the grocery store that has a clerk or a bagger with disabilities, she teaches the children with her that this person’s work has less value than someone else’s.
When a parent tells a teacher, in earshot of his own child, that he doesn’t want his son in class with “that” child; he teaches his son that a child with disabilities is less worthy of an education.
What if a woman explained to the children in her car that the reason they have to walk a little farther this morning is because there are certain spots saved for people who don’t walk as well as they can on their own and explain that fair isn’t always equal?
What if a woman deliberately chose a line at the grocery store for the clerk with a disability, quietly explaining, outside the store, that their family shops at this very store because of its inclusive employment policies?
What if a parent told a teacher, in earshot of his son, that his son has already mastered the math lesson and would be happy to help another child in the class catch up?
Each of us has the ability to lead by example. You can be the person you hope your children will become. Demonstrate the value of treating others with chesed (kindness) and kavod (respect). Teach your children that a wheelchair is just a ride. Discuss the significance of choosing your words carefully and standing up for equality and the rights of others.