I have been a Disability Awareness Player for four years. When I first heard of Disability Awareness Trainings, I was skeptical of the whole concept. I thought it was going to be about the law and how people with disabilities are treated poorly. I was worried that when we would do the Trainings, the audience would feel bad for us. I also wasn’t sure what the Trainings entailed.
But, it turns out that the Trainings are fun and interactive presentations. We, the Disability Awareness Players, help people build confidence and comfort interacting with people with disabilities through role-playing and teaching person-first language.
Over the years, I have observed the way audiences have reacted to our Disability Awareness Trainings. As they arrive at the Trainings, I can see their apprehensive looks. They tend to sit together in the back as if there is an invisible barrier between them and us. I can understand where they are coming from because it is human nature to be scared of something you don’t understand. Maybe they have had a bad experience or just feel uncomfortable around people with disabilities because they don’t know anyone with a disability. I realize that we are here to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about people with disabilities.
During the Trainings, we, the Players, add humor and joke around with each other as a way to connect and put the audience at ease. We encourage the audience to participate in role-playing and in a lively Q&A, where the Players address questions and offer advice based on their own experiences. At this part of the training, I can see the walls coming down. The audience’s facial expressions and their body language change and become more relaxed. I can see them becoming more comfortable and confident interacting with us as the Training progresses. I can see that they want to learn from the Players.
As a Disability Awareness Player, I have grown personally and professionally. As a young child, I thought people would feel sorry for me and only focus on my disability, rather than my strengths and skills. I had this impression for many years. As a Player, I have found new self-confidence that I thought was never possible for me! The response from audiences has always been positive and gives me the courage to get up in front of the larger community to share information about my disabilities. What I’ve learned is that most people have been touched by disability, either through family, friends or colleagues.
The Disability Awareness Trainings create a safe space for people to learn and help people open a dialogue about disability. It helps us all understand there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about because everyone has differences. Many audience members mention that they feel guilty about judging people with disabilities and not feeling comfortable interacting with us. My response is “You shouldn’t feel guilty about not knowing what you didn’t know. We are here to move forward by learning how to do better!” It is empowering to see how the Training can change people’s minds!
My past four years as a Disability Awareness Player have been life-changing because I’ve learned to embrace my disability, and I have helped the larger community break down barriers and dispell stereotypes. I look forward to connecting with new audiences in 2018.
For information about the hosting a Disability Awareness Training at your business or school, please email Sarah Armour at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 847-869-0000.