It’s mainly children under the age of ten who are so open about these things. The older that children and adolescents get, the more they lose this trait and the more reserved they become. Once they reach adulthood, their openness often gives way to a reluctance to engage. People who have never been around someone with a disability before can find such an encounter particularly unnerving. They avoid or ignore the person more or less unconsciously, which amounts to limited participation in society.
That’s why it should be our aim to encourage such encounters – especially during childhood and in schools, but also later on in life – by making time and providing opportunities for people with and without disabilities to come together. This helps to build trust and raise awareness that our society is diverse and made up of very different people. Just as not everyone is good at football or mathematics, it shouldn’t be an issue if someone has only one arm or uses a wheelchair. We should treat the fact that we humans are different as perfectly normal.
Visiting school classes
But how can we take this topic into schools and get children interested without boring them or, worse, forcing them do something that they are perhaps reticent about or they don’t want to do? Technology and robotics might have a key role to play here if they are used as a way to talk about physical disabilities.
That’s what we do in the
programme. Together with our partners, we developed various teaching modules in which a person with a disability teams up with an ETH coach to visit school classes and let the pupils experience the challenges that people with disabilities face in everyday life. Then, by way of specific examples, the children and young people experience for themselves how technology can benefit people with disabilities. The aim of getting the young people to interact with the person with a disability is to prompt them to think about how to break down barriers or how to develop tools that can help people with disabilities participate fully in society – in other words, with independence and self-determination.