It’s Disability Action Week (5–11 December) we’re also celebrating Human Rights week (1-10th December). I thought it might be timely to reflect on the contribution of people with a disability.  While I think of the many inspiring public figures with a disability, particularly advocates and sporting stars such as Kurt Fearnley*, it’s not those larger than life figures that come to mind.  Having worked in social work for 20 years and with several family members, friends, and acquaintances with disabilities, the people who have made the biggest contribution to my life will not be seen on TV. The contribution that people with disabilities make have happened in quiet, every day and humble moments but are every bit as profound.  As Thomas More suggests, “ The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest”. I’ve also discovered that this learning is lifelong and worth embracing. It is important to reflect on the contribution and learning that people with a disability can bring to our experience of both play and playgroups.

Creativity – at playgroup we know that our children are busy learning and because children are all different, as are people with a disability, we have to opportunity to think about play and ways of interacting differently.  If we can provide an accessible space at playgroup for different abilities and play preferences, we enhance all children’s learning and play opportunities and might even discover something new about our children.

Being Non-Judgemental and Patient – When I’m with a person with a disability, I start to slow myself down a bit so I can make sure I’m picking up all they are communicating. With some disabilities, verbal communication may not be the best way to connect and find out what is going on – behaviour and actions, expressions, and sounds might tell me much more about whether a child is enjoying an activity – or not.  I might have to wait a bit longer to respond or talk to a parent who knows the child better to help with the communication.  Sometimes little steps are the biggest wins. Sometimes, we might see some unsafe behaviour and need to unravel what is happening and why.

At times, this can be challenging or tiring, but this slowing down is a key skill in our fast-paced world and it can make such a difference to how we respond next.

Learning different points of view – It’s important for us as adults and for our children to know that not everyone sees the world the way we do.  It’s a core skill for learning empathy as we develop and grow, and the earlier we learn, the better.  There is even research on the value of these different ways of thinking such as neurodiversity in the workforce https://celebratingneurodiversity365.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Neurodiversity-Is-a-Competitive-Advantage-article-in-Harvard-Biz-Review.pdf

Flexibility – Children thrive when they have opportunities to play in lots of different ways.  Having a variety of friends to play with who have different abilities contributes to those opportunities.  As parents and adults, our attitudes are crucial to making that happen.  Considering how fast life is changing, this flexibility leads to adaptability – a critical life skill for all of us.

When we talk about including people with a disability in our community, I think it’s key to reflect, it is not only a human right and benefit for the person with a disability – it is these “ordinary arts” that benefit us as parents without a disability and our children as they learn to navigate life.

Playgroup Queensland, believes that play is for everyone and being “Welcoming and Inclusive” is part of our values.  We offer several programs that support families with children with additional needs, including PlayConnect, PALS, Active Inclusion and PlayTogether programs.

We also support parents of children with a disability in their vital role through the MyTime program.

*If you haven’t come across Kurt Fearnley, I particularly recommend his interview with children for ABC kids, as part of the Little Kids Big Talk series which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5kWF0ZoobE

Written by Terri McDonald
Senior Coordinator, Inclusive Programs