Inclusion in action

Engaging with children and youth around disability issues is a rewarding experience
Engaging with children and youth around disability issues is a rewarding experience

Six Practical Ideas To Run Amputee Awareness Sessions In Schools

I have been working on social change for the last 20odd years. Since the late 1990s I have been earning a living as a trainer, consultant and advisor for conflict transformation and peacebuilding projects, mainly in Asia and Africa. Since I have started focussing on disability issues, I have applied many of the skills I honed during my years abroad to this new passion of mine. And I am always very thankful for opportunities to engage with young people and talk about my life as an amputee. I love the interaction with the kids, their genuine interest and open-mindedness, their creative ideas and willingness to work towards inclusion. I recently had the pleasure of talking with the students from a small school in Wales. What a fantastic opportunity (thanks Julie for the invitation). Here are some pictures from the event - and some practical ideas if you are also interested to engage with schools, youth clubs and the like. I hope they make things easier.


Be Yourself

I think it is important that you find your own style when you interact with groups; especially if you are invited to talk with children and youth. This might take a while and especially in the beginning things might be scary and intimidating. But that’s ok.


Chances are high that you saw some perfectly prepared and impeccably delivered TED talks or inspirational speakers with a very well choreographed speech. And the temptation might be high to either try to imitate these perfect presentations or shy away from the opportunity as you think you will never be able to come up with something similar.


But be assured: You do not need to be perfect. It is much more important that you are you, that you are genuine, that people believe you and can relate to you. And yes, sometimes things will not go as planned. So what? That's some of the beauty of live events. You will learn, you will see what works and what doesn’t, you will develop more and more confidence and you will soon have your own style.



Let The Kids Take The Lead

If appropriate I like to wear shorts if I am invited into a school or for some other talk with children and youth. So they can right away see that I am an amputee. They can look when they think it’s appropriate. And for as long as they want to.


Normally I introduce myself briefly. My name, what I do, something about my family and my hobbies, what I like and what I don’t like before ending on “as you might have noticed, I am an amputee! In many ways, the day to day life of an amputee is not very different from the life of any other person. At the same time there are times when being an amputee is very different. Maybe more exciting, maybe just different, maybe more difficult, maybe outright frustrating.”


I then invite the kids to get together in groups of five or six and think about two questions and two questions only. What do you think is really cool when you are an amputee? And what is potentially much more difficult when you are an amputee?


I let them talk among themselves. Visit them in their little working groups, answer some of the smaller questions right away, refer others to the general discussion later on. I have never had a group that did not come up with numerous issues for both questions – plus other things they wanted to know.



Work With Their Ideas And Build On This Foundation

When I have the feeling the discussions in the small working groups are slowing down, I ask the kids to give me all the issues they came up with, starting with the cool stuff before moving on to the potentially difficult issues. While the kids share their ideas, I cluster them on a poster, the black or white board or the like. At this moment I do not comment. We are just listing all the issues they came up with.


Once everything is on the board, I go through their points and comment, and demonstrate and show pictures and let them try out things and make sure all their points are talked about and all their questions are answered. I often add additional information where I see fit. Things that I find important and that they might have missed. Or little side stories that nicely connect with points they mentioned or questions they raised.



Make It Entertaining

I think it is important that the above-mentioned part is fun and interactive. Encourage people to give you challenges, allow them to touch the prosthesis, check out the materials used in the socket, bring pictures or a small video clip where people can see you in your daily life as well as when you are active, pick up stereotypes and prove them wrong – there are endless possibilities so be creative and involve your audience.


From my point of view, a rotation adapter is a great ice breaker - if you have one, that is. Kids love it when you turn your knee in funny angles or have your toes point backwards or turn your foot upside down and place a camera, a glass or something else on it. Or bring old prosthetic parts and an Allen key and let them take the artificial limbs apart, re-assemble them in different ways and take suggestions for new combinations from the others watching.


Another way that works well for me is to invite people to give you small challenges that can be done within the very venue you are in. And then ask people if they think you will manage these challenges or not. Something like “Can you jump over my lunchbox?”, “Can you climb on a table?” or “Can you squat?” or the like. “What do you think? Well, let’s see!” – and then I give it a try.


These little challenges are also a good way to create an awareness why some things are difficult and what would make it easier for amputees to participate in certain activities/be able to do certain things.



Be Approachable

This leads me to my next point. I think it is important that you are approachable. For me that means being among the people I talk with. I want to be able to interact with them, move around, allow them to see me in action. I must admit I am not a big fan of giving a talk in front of hundreds of people, somewhere on a stage, supported by a Powerpoint presentation, detached from my audience. I want these encounters to be a personal experience for all people present. And I try to answer all the questions so that no one has the feeling his or her questions were left unanswered. I want people to look back at these meetings and remember them as a rewarding experience, see them as time well spent.



Talking About Inclusion And Participation

If the time permits, I like to steer the discussions and move on from concrete examples of what it means to be an amputee to more general concerns about participation in day to day activities, about exclusion/inclusion. My audiences often find it easy to connect to the physical aspects of exclusion. The limits of a prosthetic device, the hurdles in the environment, the fact that many high-end artificial limbs are not waterproof and outrageously expensive etc. But there is more to exclusion. Aspects that are less obvious, harder to understand – and as a consequence often more difficult to tackle. Psycho-social issues, emotional issues, cultural norms and social conventions. This is a good place to start talking about them.



Post by Bjoern Eser, the creator of The Active Amputee.