A creative programme to help schoolchildren better understand the lives of those who live with disabilities has won a €100,000 share of funds raised by The Late Late Toy Show last year.
Story telling, games and drama will aim to help children be more accepting and inclusive of people with disabilities.
The new creative programme will be launched as a pilot scheme in a small number of primary schools for children in second, third and fourth classes, early next year. It will be available to primary schools nationwide next September.
The Irish Wheelchair Association, which represents 20,000 wheelchair users, won the funding when it applied to the Community Foundation of Ireland, which distributes funds raised by The Late Late Toy Show.
Conor McAuley (20) grew up with muscular dystrophy, which impaired his ability to walk. He spoke of his struggle with accepting his own disability and his struggles around acceptance by his peers, which caused him difficulties in school.
“I hope all children will be helped to understand what a child with a disability might be feeling. It’s very important for a child to know that
it’s OK to have a disability,” said Conor, who grew up in Mornington, Co Meath.
He hopes the new programme will educate society on the importance of acceptance.
The programme will also be for teachers and parents and is based on the experiences of members of the Irish Wheelchair Association and the wider community of people with disabilities. More than one in eight people in Ireland have some form of disability.
John Fulham was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair all his life. He grew up in Limerick City.
“I was very lucky I had a mother who was a trailblazer who pushed me into mixing with other kids,” he said.
He remembered times as a primary school pupil in a wheelchair when his teachers would send him to a separate playground and allowed one or two children to keep him company. Isolating children like that was not good, he said.
Recently, he became aware of a young teenage girl in a wheelchair who was brought on a night out with her class to a bowling alley. But she and another young person with a disability were left in a bowling lane on their own with a special needs assistant.
“Someone might have thought they were including her by bringing her along on the night out, but they created an exclusionary atmosphere by moving them over to the side. The place for those children was in the middle of their peers,” he said.
Now aged 50, John lives in Donabate in Co Dublin with his wife, Mary, and their five-year-old son. He is public engagement manager with the Irish Wheelchair Association.
“The programme will be online for teachers to download. We hope to engage children through music, art, and acting to spur their interest. We want to challenge negative perceptions around disability and normalise the issues of disabilities.
“Children have no preconceived ideas. If we can sow the seeds of equality and inclusion, we can change the conversation. We want to get across to children that disability is not a negative thing. It’s an element of who they are and it needs to be included and celebrated.
“We want them to feel comfortable in talking about it. And kids playing in the playground will ask themselves how would they adapt the game to ensure Johnny or Mary can be included in the game,” he said.
He said that the perception of a wheelchair being a negative thing is a myth that needs to be dispelled.
“A wheelchair for me is an enabler. It allows me go from A to B. It allows me to hold down a job, to get married, to play with my son, to live a life. People still have lower expectations of me because they look at me in a wheelchair and make assumptions. It’s the attitude and discrimination.”
Katherine Drohan, producer of The Late Late Show, said the goodwill and magic of the Toy Show, which led to €6.6m being raised last year, was “overwhelming”.
More than 635,000 children and their families are benefiting from the support being distributed to more than 50 organisations.
“Unfortunately the need for help is even greater, so we are back again to try to get even more children and we really hope our audiences will help us,” she said.
‘The Late Late Toy Show’ is on Friday, November 26, at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and on RTÉ Player