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Diversity in STEM

Teaching Children About the Importance of Accessibility

Children are naturally curious. From asking about natural phenomena like the color of the sky and the sound of thunder, to wondering where babies come from, the desire to better understand the world around them is a trait shared by every kid.

Because of this, it’s crucial that from an early age, parents guide their curious children to understand that people may speak, hear, see, move or learn differently, and that we need to make sure everyone has access to learning opportunities regardless of their abilities. How can we help children understand the meaning and value of accessibility? Here are a few ideas.


Build Familiarity With Accessibility

Simply put, accessibility is the extent to which a service, device, product or facility is usable by as many individuals as possible, including people who have disabilities. Common examples of accessibility include wheelchair ramps outside buildings, railings on the side of steps and the adaptive usability features built into the phones and computers we use every day.

Not only is designing with accessibility in mind the right thing to do, but providing accessibility is both a civil right and federal law enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, it is illegal to discriminate based on disability.

To help children understand and appreciate the need for accessibility, parents can share examples of times when they might have needed some help to fully access or enjoy a place or experience. Have they ever used a booster seat to help them reach the table at a restaurant? Have they made art using large crayons that were easier for them to grasp? Scenarios like these are great examples of the power of accessibility!


Explore Innovations in Accessible Technology

In an effort to make the world a more accessible place, many innovators, including National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees, have worked to create solutions to make people’s lives easier. When children learn about inventions that have contributed to accessibility, they can see how empathy and the desire to improve others’ lives can often drive innovation.

A great example is the Home Page Reader (HPR) invented by NIHF Inductee Chieko Asakawa. Asakawa, who became blind at age 14 due to a swimming accident, did not let this stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming a programmer. While working at IBM, she invented the HPR, the first practical voice browser to provide effective internet access for blind and visually impaired computer users.


Share Children’s Books That Promote Inclusion

From an early age, it’s important to encourage children to view others’ abilities, as well as their own, in empowering ways. Reading books with this theme is a great way to do just that. Below are a few of our favorites.

Special People, Special Ways” by Arlene Maguire – Elementary School Appropriate
Combining rich watercolor illustrations with an engaging story that portrays children with disabilities in a positive and empowering way, this book is perfect for teaching kids the importance of empathy. Winner of an iParenting Media Award and 2009 Preferred Choice Award by Creative Child magazine, this book is packed with detailed artwork that will engage kids from start to finish.

My Brother Charlie” by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete – Elementary School Appropriate
This heartwarming book tells the story of Charlie, a boy who has autism. Told from the perspective of Charlie’s twin sister, it describes how Charlie does so many things well, while also speaking honestly about some of the challenges he faces. Written by a mother-daughter team, this story is based on the authors’ own family experiences and is a wonderful option for starting conversations about neurodivergence with children.

A Boy and A Jaguar” by Alan Rabinowitz – Elementary School Appropriate
Inspired by the author’s life, this book tells the moving story of a young boy whose speech impediment is so debilitating that he gets removed from regular class. However, one day while visiting the Bronx Zoo, he forms a special connection with a caged jaguar and decides that one day he will be the voice for the animals. The boy keeps this promise and grows up to become one of the most respected and influential zoologists in the world.

Roll With It” by Jamie Sumner – Middle School Appropriate
This book tells the story of Ellie, a girl with cerebral palsy who dreams of becoming a professional baker. When Ellie and her mother move to take care of her ailing grandfather, she has to adapt to a new school. Thanks to making some new friends, however, she is able to thrive in this new environment and continue working toward her dreams.


Watch the Paralympics Together

The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960. Since then, they have continued to be a major driving force for social inclusion of people with disabilities. Each athlete who competes showcases the courage and determination to break barriers and push the boundaries of what is possible.

When watching the games with your children, it is a great opportunity to talk with them about the importance of making sure that sports and athletics are accessible to people of all abilities. The Tokyo Paralympics will begin on Aug. 24, and you can also watch video highlights and interviews from previous events on the International Paralympic Committee website.


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