- It’s okay to identify as disabled: Zoe
- Basketball, photography and more: How Charlie’s life ‘restarted’ through Mable
- Paralympics, arts and more: How Nick does what he loves with Mable
- Reviewing cafes for accessibility: How Ashlee is pursuing her passion
- Guitar, martial arts, yoga: Skills Nissa is learning with support through Mable
Sign up to have the latest news, articles and resources delivered to your inbox.
The other day, my eldest son got annoyed at my youngest for ‘talking slowly’. They were drawing at the kitchen bench while I made lunch opposite them.
“Sa-am, just speak at normal speed, don’t talk like that!” he demanded.
And Sam replied (very matter-of-factly), “But then Mummy can’t understand me.”.
I stopped smearing Vegemite on their sandwiches because my eyes had welled up.
I’m a mum with a disability
I wasn’t sad, but I was emotional because beneath the sibling squabble lay a truly beautiful revelation: My kids (aged seven and nine) are learning about disability and the importance of inclusiveness. What’s more, they are already part of the change we want to see in the world.
As you have probably guessed, I am a mum who lives with hearing impairment. I am deaf in one ear and have moderate hearing loss in the other. I am also blind in one eye, thanks to a chronic medical condition where tumours grow in my eyes, ears, brain, spinal cord and other places. I can’t tell you how many surgeries I’ve had.
While I often feel despondent because life and parenthood is challenging for me, I am reminded time and time again of how my kids are learning great things by virtue of me simply being their mum.
Even though I wear a hearing aid on my ‘good ear’, I need those around me to be aware and understanding of my disability. Things like slowing down speech to help me follow a conversation, helps. Thankfully, my kids have my back!
But they are not alone
I think any child who grows up with a parent or sibling with disability, or has little friends with disability, has been given certain insights. Most of the time, this hasn’t been ‘taught’ by parents or teachers in any explicit way. Sometimes maybe, but mostly, it’s just them learning through exposure and experience.
If you are also a parent living with disability, then I want to remind you of how lucky your kids are to have YOU as their mum or dad. I know your parenting journey is laced with other struggles, but in some big and really wonderful ways, this is also shaping them to be top-notch humans.
Words like kind, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, understanding, inclusive and empathetic come to mind – I am sure you agree (OK, not everyday and especially not when they are pushing our buttons, but overall).
Teaching kids about disability and inclusion
While I know my kids have a deep understanding of my unique disability, they have not had the same exposure to others. Likewise, kids who have not grown up in households with disability can benefit from learning about this in different ways.
Here’s how I try to do it with my kids to give them a better grasp:
- When out and about – My son recently spotted a man with a prosthetic leg at the pool. He was looking at him, so this was a good opportunity to explain another disability to him, and also that it’s rude to stare. I used matter-of-fact language and told him the man might have been born without a leg or lost it due to an injury and his prosthetic leg helps him to walk. My son thought this was great, because how cool is technology to help us all do stuff? Seize the teachable moments!
- Look for representation – I loved it when Sesame Street featured a puppet with autism. People living with disability are underrepresented in the media and in entertainment and that puppet was teaching little viewers about her disability. Any kids’ shows, movies or books that do this should be sought out.
- Make connections – Sometimes kids are exposed to disability but don’t realise it. Think Dory from Finding Nemo. She swims about with short-term memory loss. For us, this was a nice way to slide into a conversation about a loved family member with dementia. Try to make connections whenever possible.
- Language matters – I’ve had to train myself out of some ingrained disrespectful language from my teens. I no longer say ‘lame’ when implying something is bad, for instance. Likewise, I am quick to jump on such talk if my kids pick it up and explain why it’s offensive. Language matters.
- Don’t let anyone feel left out – I’ve always encouraged my kids to play with ALL the kids and how to spot the lonely ones at school. Although this is not explicitly related to disability, the concept of inclusiveness is.
- Talk a lot – When my kids told me recently (with excitement) about the new lift being installed at school, we chatted about how great this is for kids who can’t use the stairs. This conversation led to why some students need mobility aids and how we are all different but can find similarities. For example, “Ava uses a wheelchair and I don’t. We both love playing Minecraft and drawing.”
- Exposure – Thanks to spending a bit of time visiting me in hospitals and rehab facilities, my kids have seen what happens to our brains and bodies after a brain injury, seizure or stroke, for instance. Exposure is not a bad thing; in fact, the more our kids are exposed to different things, the more wholesome they become as human beings. Don’t be afraid to take your kids places, say to visit someone in hospital or living in an aged care residence.
A brighter future
When I envisage my sons all grown up, I hope the world they venture out into is a lot more inclusive of people with disability.
Disability advocacy, and consequently, legislation has brought society a long way, but people who have this awareness and understanding already because they were raised to, are also the changemakers.
The future is safe with them.
About the author
Lana Hallowes is a freelance writer and mum of two boys, who are growing up much faster than she’d like. She loves writing for Mable and is an advocate for inclusion, being hearing impaired herself and living in a neurodiverse household.
If you’re looking to become a support worker on Mable providing social support, domestic assistance, nursing or allied health services, read more about becoming a disability support worker to get started.
Are you looking for support for yourself, a friend or family member? Join Mable today and get the support that suits your needs, or search for a support worker in your local area.