The Lollipop Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports people with disabilities and their families in Montgomery County, launched a campaign this week to educate the public on how to treat children (and adults) with disabilities. Called “Smile, Don’t Stare,” the campaign features educational materials for schools and businesses.
It also includes a heart-tugging video spot that is airing on public television in Montgomery County, in which kids with disabilities hold signs explaining how they wish people would treat them. We recently featured a post with advice from Michelle Sie Whitten, the executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, on how to approach people with disabilities. This video goes straight to the source.
Debbie Sahlin, the founder and executive director of Lollipop Kids Foundation, kicked off the campaign with a panel discussion at Imagination Stage on May 6. County Executive Isiah Leggett was there and declared May 6 Smile, Don’t Stare Day in Montgomery County.
“The underlying message is that it’s okay to look, but it’s even better to ask a question,” Sahlin said.
About 60 people attended the discussion with a panel that included two adults with disabilities. Other panelists were Andraéa LaVant, inclusion specialist, Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital; Dr. Gwendolyn Mason, director of special education services, Montgomery County Public Schools; Diane Nutting, director of access and inclusion, Imagination Stage; Chase Phillips, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch; and Steve Riley, executive director, Potomac Community Resources.
For the video, they asked children what they wish people would do when approaching them. Responses ranged from “I wish people would play with me instead of my equipment” to “I wish people would be nice to me,” Sahlin said. It’s a reminder to adults and children alike that while some people may look or behave differently, in many ways they are just like everyone else. Sahlin’s son, who is 19, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was one. He is featured in the video.
The booklet that goes with the campaign will be distributed at schools in Montgomery County, Sahlin said. The book describes some common disabilities, including traumatic brain injury and autism, to help people understand what those terms mean, and goes over appropriate behavior around service dogs. It also includes a special section for parents on how to help their children grow up with an attitude of inclusion. The group will also hold disability etiquette workshops for local businesses.
“Small children are always going to ask what the difference is, and they’re not going to ask in a politically correct way. That’s okay,” Sahlin said. “But to not answer those questions is when the isolation occurs for people with disabilities. My hope is that we can train people, because it is an uncomfortable situation, and make it comfortable.”