I made a second grade girl cry. It wasn’t pleasant, but I was following the lesson plan. I was helping with Ability Awareness Week, a program for elementary schools to make it really clear that people have different abilities. This exercise was threading Cheerios on a string while wearing socks over your hands, with an adult (me) urging you to hurry up. Urging in a pleasant, encouraging tone, but without leaving enough time to finish the job. It was a painful experience for both of us, but it was worth it to experience what it is like to have a disability.
Ability Awareness Week teaches elementary school kids about varying abilities by experiencing a disability, then following up with classroom discussion. The simulations are tuned to grade level. It is a great program, and not too hard to implement. You need a commitment from the principal and teachers, plus a few parent volunteers. The volunteers are easier to get than you might think. You’ll need a few supplies — Cheerios, socks, button-up shirts, some cardboard and mirrors for the dislexia simulation — nothing too expensive or difficult. Our school disctrict’s supplies were assembled as an Eagle Scout project.
Try it at your school. There is a wonderful manual for implementing it. We are all temporarily abled. If we’re lucky, we’ll live long enough to join the disabled.