Learning to Empathize Classmates with Disabilities

Learning to Empathize Classmates with Disabilities
Page content


Objective: To create experiences that allow children to understand what it is like to have a disability, you give them the opportunity to become connected and grow in their empathy for disabled individuals.

When people begin only having feelings of pity or sympathy toward disabled individuals, that person often begins to feel hopeless and loses any sense of pride. By teaching a more positive approach for children, we give them the tools to learn to become empathetic and to better understand the struggles of disabled people. After all of these role-playing activities, be sure to have a discussion as a class so that the children see the positive outcomes of the experience instead of focusing on the negative.

Discussion Starters

  1. Is it important to be able to see? What types of struggles might a visually impaired face on a daily basis? Are there situations where a blind person may have an advantage over a sighted person?

  2. How do we hear? How would it feel if you couldn’t hear your television or your friends talking to you? How do babies learn how to

    talk? How can you learn to communicate with others without talking?

  3. What does physically disabled mean? How do you feel when you see someone using a wheelchair or a walker? How do you think that person feels when they see you walking and running? How does it feel when you are too small to reach something (like a drinking fountain or a cupboard at home)?

  4. If anyone in the class has had a broken arm or leg, ask them to share some of the struggles they faced when they had their injury. Were they treated differently during this time?


These activities will help students experience what it might be like to have a particular disability. Again, follow each activity up with a discussion about how they felt during the activity and relate it back to those with an actual disability.

Impaired Vision

  1. Blindfold one student and have another lead him/her around a familiar area. They can take turns wearing the blindfold. The blindfolded child should take the seeing person by the upper arm so that he/she is never pulled or pushed. They are simply following the lead of the sighted person.
  2. Take an old pair of glasses and cover the lenses and sides of the glasses with waxed paper to experience blurred vision. Leave out some books for the children to look at while wearing their “new eyes”.
  3. Find a book or sheet of Braille words so that the children can experience what it is like to read using Braille.

Impaired Hearing

  1. Using earmuffs, cover a child’s ear and have a partner read them a story. You can also place cotton balls or gauze pads over the ear (never in) and secure it with a scarf to give the same sensation.
  2. Read part of a story very softly to the class. Then, turn your back to the class and continue reading in the same tone of voice. Discuss the differences between the two. Which was harder to hear and why?
  3. Have children watch a video with the volume muted.

Physical Disability

  1. Borrow a number of wheelchairs and have students try and maneuver around the classroom. Or go into the gym or outside and set up some cones for them to move around.
  2. Get a pair of crutches to show students how difficult it is to get around with them. Encourage students to leave one foot off the ground at all times.
  3. Tie one arm loosely to one side with a scarf. Ask children to write, color, or eat with one hand. They can even try putting on their coat or other outerwear by themselves.

Follow Up

It is extremely important that you continue to emphasize the positive images of these experiences. The students should not look at this as proof that we should feel sorry for those with disabilities. We want them to empathize with them and understand them, and learn to treat them as we would anyone else.

This post is part of the series: Disability Awareness

Series of Articles to help young students understand disabilities and become accepting of those that live with them.

  1. Sameness and Differences: Building Disability Awareness
  2. Lesson on Disability Awareness: What Can Our Bodies Do?
  3. Lesson III: What is a Disability?
  4. Lesson IV: What is it Like to Have a Disability?
  5. Lesson Plan: How do People With Disabilities Function on a Daily Basis?