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Sharing Disabled Role Models with Middle School Students

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

by Ms. Katie Twyman, Education Specialist

Pacific Trails Middle School, San Diego, CA

Last year I had the pleasure of working with a diverse group of middle schoolers. During one of our units, I noticed that many of my students struggled to identify what self-advocacy meant. I decided to bring in a speaker with firsthand disability experience in the form of a TED talk I had found on the Teacher Leaders for Inclusion website by Stella Young called, “I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much.” My goal was to introduce the topic of self-advocacy and what it can be like to have a disability in school. More specifically, I wanted students to explore the idea that everyone has assets, needs, and areas to grow, especially in education.

I chose this video in particular because I wanted a resource that amplified the experience of a person with a disability and in this situation a disability rights activist. In addition, I wanted students to hear Stella’s perspective about her own disability and how others perceive her. Furthermore, Stella’s main message is that we have all been lied to about disability because we have been told disability is a “bad thing.”

Students were able to connect to this video because it was engaging and Stella captivated them with her sense of humor. In addition, students were able to not only think about their disability differently but how they perceive disability as well. Stemming from this video, I created a mini-unit on self-advocacy. The main learning objectives are for students to identify their strengths and how they can use them to their advantage to ask for help and to use their strengths for things that are more challenging. In the lessons, I share Lederick Horne’s poetry.

After listening to LeDerick Horne's poem, "I Dare to Dream," students wrote their own "I dare" statements:

  • "I dare to be myself and help others be okay with being themselves."

  • "I dare to not judge disabled people by the way they look."

  • "I dare to learn more about my disability so I can tell other people how to help me."

  • "I dare to try lacrosse because I always wanted to try it"

Students also offered explanations of the quote: “Having a need and needing help does not make you weak; it’s a sign that you are human.” - Kate Northrup Few additional quotes from the students:

  • "It means that no one is perfect and that you will always have to ask for help at one point in your life."

  • "Everyone needs help sometimes, it’s okay if you do too." "It means that in life it's no shame for asking for help. She is saying that you're kinda a robot for not asking for help."

  • "I think it means that everybody needs help sometimes because everyone has different needs."

  • "I think she means you're worth it and you deserve help when you ask."

It was a successful mini-unit and I’m glad I could introduce Stella and Lederick as really awesome role models.


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