Lesson Plan

Equal Treatment, Equal Access: Raising Awareness about People with Disabilities and Their Struggle for Equal Rights

Shadow of Disability

World Health Organization

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GRADE LEVEL: Preschool, Elementary School, Middle School, High School

COMMON CORE STANDARDS: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Language Arts

Elementary/Middle School - See the World through the Hands of People with Visual Disability

For centuries people with disabilities were thought to be helpless, indigent citizens, and were forced into institutions and asylums without equal opportunity or equal protection under the law. The disability rights movement of the 1960s marked a critical turning point with the rise of a grassroots effort that eventually led to the legislative victories of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 (renamed IDEA in 1990) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

Since the inception of ADA, changes have been made to better daily living. Supermarket aisles are wider, schools have ramps and public transportation is more accessible for disabled people. However, despite the fact that people with disabilities represent one of the largest demographic groups in the nation, the disability community continues to face architectural barriers, discriminatory policies, negative attitudes and implicit and explicit biases on a daily basis.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 40.7 million people, or 12.8% of the population had a disability in 2016. Persons without a disability ages 16 to 64 were employed more than double the percentage (65.3%) of persons with a disability (27.7%). Even in the digital age, access to the internet is unequally distributed. Findings of a Pew Research Center survey in 2016 reflect lower rates of daily internet use by individuals who have a disability compared to those without a disability (50% vs. 79%).

As Carol Gill, a chief disability rights advocate observes, “We have been viewed too much in terms of our diagnoses and too little in terms of our personhood…Most of our problems are caused not by our bodies but by a society that refuses to accommodate our differences.”

The multi-grade lessons included in this curriculum unit seek to challenge myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities and to promote awareness of various forms of disability.


Len Barton. 1993. “The Struggle for citizenship: The case of disabled people.” Disability, Handicap, and Society 8(3): 235–48.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2017. Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics —2016. News Release. Table 1. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics, p. 7. www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/disabl_06212017.pdf.

Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin. 2017. “Disabled Americas Are Less Likely to Use Technology.” Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

Carol Gill. 1996. “Becoming visible: Personal health experiences of women with physical disabilities. In Women with physical disabilities: Achieving and maintaining health and well-being edited by D.M. Krotoski, M.A. Nosek, and M.A. Turk. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, p. 9.

U.S. Census Bureau, 2016, American Community Survey, Table S1810, http://factfinder.census.gov.


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