Physical Disabilities Resources

In this unit, we teach students that physical disabilities have various causes, that someone with a physical disability will likely use adaptive equipment and/or assistive technology to live a full life, and that we all need to work together to remove both architectural and attitudinal barriers for everyone’s benefit.

Key themes:

  • Some people with physical disabilities will need extra time to complete a task or will perform it in a different way.
  • It is natural to feel uncertain about how to interact with someone who has a physical or other disability, but you will become more comfortable as you learn more.
  • Assistive technology is playing an increasingly important role making everyday life more accessible for people with physical disabilities.
  • The purpose of Universal Design is to create a world that fits everyone – whether you are elderly, a student using a wheelchair or crutches, or a mother pushing a stroller.

Suggested reading

Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School,  by Melissa Shang

This book is available new and used at low cost on Amazon, and on used bookstores online.  Or we suggest reviewing our extensive guide to finding suggested reading titles online, for free or at very low cost, here

Cover Art from Mia Lee is Wheeling Through MIddle School; image shows drawing of happy girl in a wheelchair and glowing light around her with stars in a night sky  Image is of Melissa Shang close up, smiling

Hello, sixth grade! Mia Lee is a stop-motion filmmaker with a wheelchair and a lot of sass, trying to survive her new middle school. Which doesn’t seem so easy when she’s running for Video Production Club President against certified Middle School Mean Girl, Angela Vanover. Things get weird when Angela starts being nice to her – well, when other people are around, at least. But when Mia’s campaign posters for VP Club President mysteriously vanish – no tape, no poster, no nothin’ – the presidential race gets real. With the help of her brain files, an awesome aide with keys to the whole school, and her friends, Rory, Daniela, and Caroline, Mia finds herself on a mission to prove Angela isn’t just an ordinary middle school mean girl, she’s a thief!

Questions to consider

  • Did you know anything about Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, a form of muscular dystrophy, before reading Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School?  What do you know now? 
  • How did your feelings about using a wheelchair change after reading this book?
  • What are some of the ways Mia mentions that having this disability makes her different? How do you think she is the same as any other new middle school student?
  • Who are some of Mia’s allies, including adults, in the book?  How do they treat her?  
  • Who are some of the characters who make Mia and her friends’ change to middle school more challenging?  Why do you think some of the characters bully Mia and her friends?
  • How does the topic that Mia chooses for her campaign video for Video Production (VP) Club help not just her out, but other kids with disabilities as well?
  • If you were in the VP Club, what would your video be about?  Would it help others as well?
  • What do you think that Mia means when she says “Charcot-Marie-Tooth is my disability, not yours” to her mom?

Some interesting information about the author of this book
Melissa Shang is an 17-year-old who goes to Newton South High School. Born with a form of muscular dystrophy called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, Melissa is a disability advocate and an American Girl fan. With the help of her sister Eva, Melissa launched a viral petition of a disabled American Girl doll that was featured in Cosmopolitan, USA Today, CBS, HLN, IB Times, and other major news outlets and raised massive public attention to disability representation in children’s toys.

Offline activity

Make some Brain Files of your own, just like Mia Lee!

Image of Brain Files worksheet

Mia talks about her “brain files”, the observations she makes about other people and the world around her.  How do these brain files help her?  Try jotting down “brain files” of your own.  How do these observations help you?

Feeling more adventurous?  Learn how to make a stop motion video of your own, just like Mia Lee!

Here are some great instructions from The Boston Children’s Museum and a cute example: