Looking to raise disability awareness in your class or school? Start by helping students make a personal connection.

“The kids keep coming to tell me about the accomplishments they have made because they kept trying and trying. It brings joy to my heart to know Rick's message reached them in this way." - Eleanor Norman.
Eleanor Norman remembers how proud she and her family were to root for Rick Hansen during his Man In Motion World Tour over 30 years ago. An Occasional Teacher at Chapman Mills Public School, Eleanor is connecting with this Canadian hero in a different way. Two years ago, when her school board emailed to promote the Rick Hansen Foundation School Program (RHFSP), she jumped at the chance to register and share RHFSP resources with her students and other teachers.

Beyond her admiration for Rick and his achievements, Eleanor believes it’s important children have the opportunity to learn about disability, accessibility, and inclusion.
“All of us need to feel included in our world,” says Eleanor. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair or not, you need to make other people feel like they’re valued and that they matter.”

Teaching how to make a difference

Eleanor began by reviewing RHFSP resources, including the Abilities in Motion toolkit, developed to fit easily into any provincial curriculum, for youth ages kindergarten to grade 12. She recognized how they could inspire her own students in kindergarten, grade 3, 4, and 5 to persevere under any challenging circumstances. Even if youth don’t have personal experiences with disability, RHFSP resources can help motivate them to make the world a better place by considering the unique needs of others.
Eleanor Norman holding up 'Roll On' book
Eleanor Norman reading 'Roll On' book to students
Eleanor introduced her students to Rick’s story by reading his Roll On and Man In Motion books. Students as young as four years old immediately connected with Rick's message to keep trying and never give up. By drawing from their own experiences, such as learning to ride a bike or swim, they discussed how challenging it can be to learn a new skill. Students with personal experiences of disability were particularly impacted by the lesson – one student talked about having siblings with cochlear implants, while others had family members who use wheelchairs.
“The children teach me more than I teach them,” says Eleanor. “Rick’s story made for such rich discussion. Many of my students are experts regarding what it means to live with a disability and help to inform me and the rest of the class.”
She described a hypothetical situation to her students: what if someone really wanted to take an art class but couldn’t access it because they were in a wheelchair and the elevator wasn’t working? Students immediately said it wasn’t fair and wanted someone to do something about it.

In Kindergarten, in learning about their five senses, Eleanor told students she was going to take away some of those senses for their activities. First, she asked them to plug their ears, then she mouthed the words “stand up.” Some students figured out what she saying, but were afraid to stand up because no one else was. Her students talked later about how awkward it was to feel different.
Student writing his name using his toes

Students learned about trust in an activity where they were asked to keep their eyes closed and allow themselves to be guided by other students safely to a chair. They were challenged to write their names, also with their eyes closed, and compare their signature with how it looks when they write in their usual way. One particular activity was a big hit: students were asked to remove their shoes without using their hands, and then write their names using only their toes! Afterwards, the students viewed photos of mouth-and-foot artists and were in awe of the artists’ ability to create beautiful paintings without using their hands.
“The RHFSP helps our students reach an emotional response in order to make a difference and make our world a little better because of what they’ve learned,” says Eleanor.

Inspiring social change

In May 2017, Eleanor was honoured to meet Rick Hansen at the RHF Youth Leadership Summit in Ottawa. The summit brought together 50 young leaders—with and without disabilities—from across the country to participate in activities focusing on accessibility and inclusion for people with physical disabilities.
Eleanor Norman and Rick Hansen
“It was a piece of history and one of the most poignant experiences of my life,” says Eleanor. “Rick Hansen is truly a catalyst for change. He has taken on that challenge on behalf of so many others.”
Meeting her childhood hero re-ignited Eleanor’s admiration for both Rick and RHFSP. She keeps the RHFSP resources in her teacher bag and encourages other teachers to take the materials into their classrooms to witness the impact on their students.
“We [teachers] are always looking for really rich resources,” says Eleanor. “There’s not one teacher who couldn’t benefit from using the program to better their classroom and enrich their students.”