A guest blog by Bill Sitter
At JJsList.com we always say, “When you have met one person with a disability, you have met one person with a disability.” It’s all about focusing on the person as an individual who is part of a group rather than as an outsider who is defined by a disability. I think the new character Julia on Sesame Street, does a similar thing, that is, she helps children and adults see people who have autism as individuals first, just like the Disability Awareness Players strive to do.
The number of people being diagnosed with autism has increased to about 1 in 68 children. (CDC) This news creates an even greater need for public awareness of what autistic behaviors might look like to other people. Sesame Street recognized that this awareness should start at an early age and created a puppet named Julia who is friends with Elmo and who has autism. She serves to help children be more accepting of people with autism and promote disability awareness in children.
Disability Awareness can be best defined as accepting people with disabilities and recognizing that we are individuals with wants and needs just like everyone else. The Disability Awareness Players talk about putting the person before the disability. For example, say, “A person who uses a wheelchair,” rather than “A person who is confined to a wheelchair.”
In order explain disability awareness, both Sesame Street and the Disability Awareness Players utilize real life interactions to show how people with disabilities live their lives. In a clip seen on 60 Minutes, Big Bird stated that he thought Julia did not like him because she did not respond when Big Bird approached her. Elmo explained that Julia has autism and it may take her longer to respond. Similarly, as a JJsList.com Disability Awareness Player I designed a roleplay that focuses on how those who have autism might respond to requests.
In the roleplay, I portray a student who is working on a paper. A classmate races out saying “Bill, we need to head out for a class event.” I ignore her because as someone with autism, it takes me a while to respond. This results in my classmate being frustrated with me and I am not remotely aware why she is frustrated. This lack of awareness can frustrate both the person with and the person without the disability.
I then invite an audience member to redo the roleplay correctly. The changes include having the person act with patience towards me and give me time to respond to a request. The revised role play shows my classmate taking time to ensure that she has my attention before giving me an instruction. This way of interacting gives the person with autism time needed to transition from one task to another. This allows for a more healthy interaction between both people, as well as acceptance and understanding for all.
The work of both the Disability Awareness Players and Sesame Street’s Julia fosters acceptance of the diversity of all people. Julia’s focus is primarily on acceptance of persons with autism, and by comparison, the Disability Awareness Players focus on many issues of inclusion, among them being autism. Let’s help this work grow!
Thanks to our guest blogger Bill Sitter for contributing to this blog.