FAQ: Bring UOD to Your School

Why do we teach children about disabilities?

People with disabilities face many barriers every day — from physical obstacles (architectural barriers) in buildings to barriers in employment — but the most difficult barriers to overcome are the attitudes of other people toward people with disabilities. We know that children have a natural curiosity about disabilities and that accurate information can make a life-long difference between acceptance and discrimination. We also know that physical, side-by-side inclusion alone does not ensure real understanding and social acceptance. Specific education about disabilities, at an early age, is essential to fostering inclusive classroom, school and community climates.

How does Understanding Our Differences relate to anti-bullying initiatives that many schools are putting into place?

Each unit sends the message that bullying is unacceptable, especially since research has found that children with disabilities or medical conditions are more likely to be the targets of bullying. Some units include activities where students consider bullying from various points of view. These activities aim to empower students to stand up for each other. The concept of an “ally” is introduced to help our schools and communities become safer and free of bullying.

What does it take to start up Understanding Our Differences for a school or school system that has not participated in the program in the past?

If you are interested in bringing the Understanding Our Differences program to your school or district, please contact us for further information. We are happy to work with and advise parents, Special Education Parent Advisory Councils, teachers, principals and administrators about how to successfully introduce and run the program. There are fees to purchase the curriculum and to assemble the needed kit materials, as well as for advance training in program delivery, which is strongly recommended. We will provide you with a proposal tailored to your school or district. Please see below for more details.

Based on our experience, we strongly recommend that a school or school district should begin with a pilot program of Understanding Our Differences. This means that you should plan to implement the program in its first year on a small scale, testing out several of our curriculum units in one or two schools or grades. This process will allow you to experience first-hand the skills and organizational structure needed going forward, and will allow you to be better informed before a wider implementation. UOD will help you to develop your budget, as well as assisting you to learn how to find volunteers, set up a schedule, reach out to speakers and locate equipment.

What can parents do if they would like to see Understanding Our Differences offered at their child’s school?

We welcome your interest and suggest that you contact us, while also encouraging your child’s teacher and principal to view our website. If they have any questions, they can contact us as well. You can also provide us with the name and contact information of a teacher or principal and we can call them and discuss our program.

How long does it take to present a typical Understanding Our Differences unit to a class?

Each unit, except the Chronic Medical Condition units, can be implemented in a single two-hour session. Allergic Conditions, Asthma, Diabetes and Epilepsy each take 1-1/4 hours.

In what grades is Understanding Our Differences offered?

The program has been developed for students in grades 3-5, but can easily be adapted for younger or older students.

Can Understanding Our Differences be integrated into a regular curriculum plan?

Absolutely. Our curriculum was developed in collaboration with teachers who have considerable classroom experience.

If I want to talk to a teacher or principal who has experience with
Understanding Our Differences, can that be arranged?

Certainly. Please contact Rebecca Lubens, Executive Director, at [email protected].

Do you update the curriculum?

Yes. We have a team of medical professionals, educators, resource specialists and parents for each disability topic. We review each curriculum unit annually and update it, as needed, based on new research and evaluations.

Do you need to purchase all the Understanding Our Differences units or can you just offer one or several units?

We recommend that schools offer a minimum of several units so students understand that a range of disabilities exists. While each condition is different, teaching more than one unit allows students to fully understand that it is important to see the whole person and better understand the disability.

How much does it cost to offer Understanding Our Differences at my school?

Please contact us for specific information. The fees include our copyrighted, comprehensive curriculum for each unit, including the user-friendly, step-by-step curriculum guides and introductory materials, with access to our materials provided online.

If purchase costs are an obstacle, Understanding Our Differences can assist you by providing suggestions for potential sources of funding. Many school districts have successfully raised the necessary funds through donations from a PTO, school budget allocations, grant funding, contributions from individuals, or other sources. Our experience proves that if you would like to see our curriculum in your school, you can make it happen!

Are there any other costs?

There are small additional fees to consider when creating your budget. Attending our training sessions and creating kits of materials for hands-on activities are some of these costs. We provide kit equipment lists so that you may assemble curriculum kits for your school or district; materials costs are generally quite modest. The cost of creating a kit varies according to the unit, but generally is less than $50.

Also, it is very important to provide an honorarium for the guest speaker with a disability, and potentially to cover his or her transportation costs, which can vary depending upon the number and length of the sessions. Often, principals, PTOs or parents are able to raise funds for these costs.

Who usually presents the unit to a class?

In most cases, trained volunteers — typically parents of children in the classroom — present the program. However, in a number of cases a classroom teacher has presented the program in collaboration with other adults at the school or parent volunteers. In some situations, teachers have combined classes and co-taught the program.

Whether implemented by volunteers or school staff, a guest speaker with the disability that is the focus of the unit is the cornerstone and most popular aspect of the program for students.

What is the role of the volunteers in the program?

Parent participation is a great strength of this program. Our trained volunteers coordinate the entire session for the classroom, including recruiting other volunteers, scheduling a time for the presentation and leading the activities. This is an excellent opportunity to share time in the classroom with your own child, to get to know other parents and students, as well as encourage friendship and empathy for people with disabilities in our community.

Who arranges for guest speakers? Are the speakers trained to deal with questions from third, fourth and fifth graders?

In Newton schools, our volunteers make arrangements with our guest speakers who are experienced in interacting with elementary school students and answering their insightful questions. The Understanding Our Differences staff can assist those in other cities and towns to identify resources for potential guest speakers as well as providing training materials. Please contact Rebecca Lubens at [email protected].

Is Understanding Our Differences offered outside of Massachusetts?

While the program began in Massachusetts, our curriculum is available to any community or organization in the United States, and beyond.

How can I support Understanding Our Differences?

As a nonprofit organization, we depend on volunteers to both participate in our programs and provide financial support. Please click on our donate or volunteer pages and learn how you can help.