Awareness workshops

Awareness workshops create understanding about disabilities, sensitize children to the concept of inclusion and make them aware of the rights people with disability have. We want them to become awareness agents too.

The first step:
Identify the school/s and the target students (preferably not below class 5) where you want to conduct the workshop. Before deciding on a school, you should know what kind of background the children are from and what system of education the school follows. You could choose schools where special children are studying, or wealthy schools that might help with fund raising or schools that seem open to the idea of inclusion and may be looking for that last push to actually do it.

Note: However, if you choose a school because there are children with special needs studying there, sensitivity and tact will be essential or those children may become targets. It’s best to save these schools for when you have more experience.

The second step:
Approach the school principal. Make an appointment. Be on time! Bring some of your organization’s literature. After giving a background of where you are from and why students are so important to your mission, ask for permission to conduct the workshop. Explain how you want to conduct it, how much time it will take and which classes you are interested in working with.

How much time should one workshop take?

It all depends on your goals, the age of the children and the time the school is prepared to give you. You should develop a repertoire – from one hour to three days and everything in-between!

What to do in a workshop?

There are lots of ways to do workshops. Here’s one format that we’ve found successful:

Make sure everyone has a name-tag with their first name (ONLY) written in large, bold letters. Making the tags can be a warm-up activity while waiting for everyone to arrive and settle down.

Start with introduction “ice-breakers.” The goal is to engage the students’ attention immediately, but not in such a rowdy way that you lose control of the group. They can go round the circle and share their name and one thing they like about themselves. (Google “ice breaking activities” – there are millions).

Do a presentation:

The presentation can consist of short movies or a power point presentation, but keep it interactive rather than theoretical. It is very important to make the PPT visual (use photos or cartoons – not clip art and use very few words) and also to interact with the students during the presentation. You can ask questions in between or pause the PPT to give examples. The whole presentation should be fun – not endless slides with boring text.

Instead of inserting all the text in the presentation, it’s better to speak directly with the children, getting them to share their views.

Sensitization activities:

Activities are always fun and children love them. They keep energy high and the material interesting. Best of all, studies prove that the best way to learn is through experience.

Some ideas for activities are given below, but branch out! Try new ones!

Tongue Rolling: Not everyone can roll their tongue. Ask the children: who can roll their tongue and who can’t? Ask those who can do it to show their amazing skill to the rest of the group.

Then announce that only children who can roll their tongues are allowed to come to school tomorrow. Everyone else must sit at home and are not allowed to play (say it in a serious tone). Pause for effect.

Ask the class whether this is fair or not. The excluded children will certainly say no. Then say: “OK, we’ll turn it around. Children who can roll their tongues AREN’T allowed to come to school tomorrow. There.” Pause. Ask the children who can roll their tongues to leave and as they are leaving ask the class “Is this fair?”

Whatever the answer may be (it is usually an emphatic NO!) ask them why. Let the discussion carry on for a while.

Be prepared with examples where exclusion might actually be not only fair but right (children under a certain height can’t go on certain rides at an amusement park; children under 18 are not allowed to work). Depending on the audience’s age and maturity, you might bring up other kids of exclusion: dalits not being allowed to use the same utensils as high caste people; women not being allowed into temples during their periods; non-Uttarakhandis not being allowed to own land in our state).

Workshops are only a way to stimulate a child’s thinking. The main idea is to let them think for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Often, that leads them to agree with you and your cause; sometimes it will have the opposite effect! Be prepared!

Simulation activities

Action speaks louder than words. One cannot express or hope to make students understand what a person with disability feels by words alone. How does a person with blindness go through his day, how do you communicate when you cannot speak? This is where sensitization activities can be used effectively.

You can start with something simple like blindfolding them and asking them to fetch their bags from their desks, or you can tie their hands and ask them to write their names.

You can also do a small skit where a child has to go to the market and buy some common household product like ginger or bread. But the child is not allowed to talk, he can only mime what he wants. The child acting as a shopkeeper doesn’t know the ‘customer’ cannot talk or what he wants.

Once they finish the activity ask them how they liked it? Were they able to write their name? Was it easy to walk while blindfolded? Could they manage explaining to the shopkeeper what they wanted?

These are both fun and easy activities to make the children understand how a child with a disability may feel. Another great thing about stimulation activities is that they often succeed in dispelling myths. Many children will try and succeed in writing their name by holding a pencil in their mouth, those blindfolded will manage to pick up their bags and bring it to you. Their success can be used to make the children understand that a child with a disability can also do these things; he too can play, write and have fun. It may be a little difficult to do so but it is definitely possible!

There is another activity that can be conducted to help understand exclusion. We usually do this with children in senior classes.

Take a few sheets of paper and make head-bands or crowns out of them. These crowns have a few instructions like “ignore me”, “point at me and laugh”, “stare at me”, “after looking at me, go into corners and whisper.”

Ask for volunteers and take them to a corner. Place these crowns on them. Make sure they do not know what is written on the one they are wearing. You will need someone to tell the other student in the class to follow the instructions without saying anything.

The activity makes the children realize how it feels when other children behave in such a manner. If you have bullies in the class, this is a great activity to deal with them. Just make them wear the crowns!

NOTE: It is very important that the children understand the meaning behind these activities. So do have a discussion on how each child felt while doing these activities. Write down some of the things that are said and at the end of the discussion you can wrap up using their own words.

Feedback forms:
A feedback form is an important part of the process. We have a pre and a post workshop form which gives us a baseline of children’s awareness before hearing our talk and a follow-up which gauges our success as teachers. Assure children that the forms are to evaluate YOUR performance, not theirs. They don’t need to use real names – they can draw a picture or use a made-up name instead. Just make sure they use the same identifying mark on both forms so we can chart the changes.

The forms are an excellent way to know whether our workshop was successful or not and whether or not there has been a change, even a small one in any child’s thinking.

Career Workshops

Social work is not a viable career option, right? Our career workshops challenge this myth. The field of rehabilitation requires trained and passionate professionals and it is possible not only to serve society but to make a decent living at the same time.

Our workshops educate students about the wide range of professional options that exist in the field while also opening their minds to the idea that any career can have a special needs component provided the individual is sensitive and aware.

How is a career workshop different from an awareness workshop?

Awareness workshops can be conducted with any age group whereas a career workshop is conducted for students in or above class 11. You want kids who are old enough to have started thinking about their futures in a concrete way.

The presentation is this case is usually a power point presentation but keep it interactive rather than theoretical. It is very important to make the PPT visual (use photos or cartoons – not clip art and very few words) and also to interact with the students during the presentation. You can ask questions in between or pause the PPT to give examples. The whole presentation should be fun – not endless slides with boring text. Give examples of famous people in the field works as a great motivation to the students. The presentation should be informative and inspiring.

If time permits, consider a panel discussion. Hearing experts from the field talk about their work and answer tricky questions makes the profession come alive and gives students a clear idea of what exactly is involved both in training and the day to day life of their chosen field.

You can also conduct a shadow program in which a student follows an expert for a certain period (an hour, a day, a week etc) of time to observe his/her work.

The aim of the workshop is to provide a true picture of the many career options in this field. Let the students know what is out there, clear their confusions, experience the work and then choose this profession they are best suited for.

REMEMBER these are just guidelines. Identify your audience and their reactions, be creative, think outside the box and have fun!