Talking to Learners with Disabilities about Social Justice

colorful books sit in a row

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

July 15, 2020

Recent events in the past few months have sparked new dialogue about social justice and race in the United States. Around the country educators have begun working toward creating a more diverse and inclusive curriculum about social justice. Likewise, in homes, parents are starting conversations with their children as well. In order to help facilitate these conversations, the New England Consortium on Deafblindness (NEC)  has created a compilation of resources gathered by public schools, universities, and organizations, and provided information about how these resources can be appropriately adapted for students with disabilities, especially students with dual-sensory loss. 

For Families and Educators:

Talking to Your Child About Racial Justice: ASL & English Resources

The American Society of Deaf Children compiled a list of resources in American Sign Language (ASL) and English that help discuss social justice with learners who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. These resources include books and informational videos in ASL. 

Adaptations: For students with dual sensory loss, materials should be provided to children through a combination of modalities that are geared toward the needs of the learner. Adaptations can include reading the book in tactile sign language, adding enlarged text from the book, and providing learners with simplified high-contrast images. For learners with additional or multiple disabilities materials can be modified by taking key concepts from the books, such as salient words or images. 


16 ways to help children become thoughtful, informed, and BRAVE about race

This resource from Embrace Race comes in Spanish and English and provides guidelines for discussing race and ethnicity with children, especially those who are young. It may seem abstract or difficult to have conversations about race with learners who have vision loss, particularly with learners who have no vision. However, a book published by Osagie Obasogie noted that even individuals with no vision had an understanding of race in a visual context, which influenced their own interactions in society. 

Adaptations: The conversations and ideas outlined in this article can be easily adapted for children with dual-sensory loss, including children with additional or multiple disabilities. When thinking about specific adaptations, consider the unique needs of the learner. Do they obtain most of their information about the world tactically? What do they already know? What do they need to know to meaningfully engage in this type of interaction? Answering these questions first will provide you with more specific ideas for adaptation. Additionally, when having these discussions, consider the learner’s own communication system and use it during the conversation. For example, if the learner uses picture-symbols to communicate, create new symbols that you can use in the discussion. If the learner has an AAC device like a Tobii, consider using the Tobii in addition to spoken language when explaining concepts or ideas. 


10 Books to Introduce Race and Ethnicity to Students With Autism

This article features 10 books that the author has compiled in order to talk about race and ethnicity with her young son, who has Autism. 

Adaptations: While this piece is geared toward students without vision and hearing loss, there are many ways that the books can be adapted specifically for students with visual impairments. A few additional examples including adding tactile features to the illustrations in the book with the use of puffy paint or elmers glue, adding enlarged print to the book by gluing paper onto the pages, or creating an adapted version of the book for learners with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). 


How to Talk to Children About Racism

Both UNICEF and Boston Children’s Hospital have shared great resources on how to have developmentally appropriate conversations with children about racism. Both of these articles provide information that can be used with children of all abilities. Most notably, educators and parents should strive to provide diverse representation in the media, books, and toys presented to children from a young age. In classrooms, consider the dolls or action figures available for children to play with as well as the characters in books, do they accurately represent society? Do they equally represent all of the students in the classroom? At home, Ellen Greenlaw from Boston Children’s Hospital implores parents to analyze their own social circles. 


For Educators:

Urban Narratives: Portraits in Progress- Life at the Intersections of Learning Disability, Race, and Social Class

This book features the voices of seven young adults labeled as having a disability. The book is described by the authors as “[Using] an intersectional analysis to examine how power circulates in society throughout and among historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal domains, impacting social, academic, and economic opportunities for individuals, and expanding or circumscribing their worlds.”


Divas with Disabilities Project

“The Divas With Disabilities Project, also known as Divas With Disabilities (DWD), started out as a digital movement created to amplify the images of African American women with physical disabilities. It has since evolved into a network supporting Black and Brown women and girls with physical disabilities by ensuring our identities are fostered in inclusive sources of mass media and popular culture, and our images are not erased from American history”.


Teaching Materials and Resources Related to Teaching for Black Lives

Teaching for Black Lives is a teaching guide that aims to emphasize black voices and history within school curriculum. This google document was created by rethinking schools and contains a list of teaching materials that are related to Teaching for Black Lives. Materials within this document can be adapted by modifying the books and materials to be accessible as well as developmentally appropriate for students with additional disabilities.