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Free school program delivered to aid in the education of inclusivity

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A free school program helps stop bullying targeting children with disability and aid in the education of inclusivity 

A free program for NSW Central Coast schools is helping children understand the impacts of bullying on people living with a disability.

Maree Jenner is a person of short stature, commonly referred to as dwarfism, and works for the not-for-profit organisation, Social Futures, an NDIS Partner in the community. She delivers the ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program to Central Coast primary and high schools.

The program aims to remove social barriers and encourage inclusivity in educational institutions for people with disability.

Research shows that children with disability are at increased risk of being bullied. Bullying can include making fun of kids because of their differences, and sadly the child doing the bullying is usually not fully aware of the hurt they are causing,” Maree said.

“The ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program helps educate children and teachers about the steps they can take to be more inclusive of everyone.”

Maree said one reason children with disabilities might be at higher risk of bullying and feeling excluded from everyday activities is a lack of peer support.

“Having friends who are caring and supportive and willing to speak out against bullying helps keep all children safe,” Maree said.

The program encourages everyone in the school community to think about actions they can take to ensure every student feels safe, included and valued.

“School supports, like a buddy system, help students with disabilities participate and succeed at school – and that includes making meaningful friendships.”

Maree highlighted that engaging students in activities in which everyone has a role helps to build a supportive environment, that fosters inclusivity.

Social Futures also has programs visiting schools teaching inclusion through disability sports like blind cricket and wheelchair basketball, helping to break down barriers and unhelpful attitudes.

Related: Social Futures creates innovative methods for introducing children to the NDIS

The ‘Different on the Outside, Same on the Inside’ program is supported by Sam Millard, National President of Short Statured People of Australia. 

“The relationship people have with physical difference is shaped in those formative first years, so having someone come in and help educate school-aged kids has a huge flow-on effect,” Millard said.

“It is wonderful that students have the chance to meet someone like Maree, so they are able to say, ‘I’ve met Maree, she’s short-statured, and in some ways different to me, but then we have this in common.’ Things as simple as that can shape someone’s perception of difference.”

“Adaptive strategies and equipment are enormously helpful in providing universal access to buildings and opportunities for work, study and social participation. For example, at my workplace I have a specialised chair that enables me to use a standard desk,” Maree added.

“Young people are open to new ways of thinking and have questions about disability and are curious about difference.”

The program has been delivered to more than 1000 children on the Central Coast and the positive response from the students has been overwhelming.

“Social Futures also has programs visiting schools teaching inclusion through disability sports like blind cricket and wheelchair basketball, helping to break down barriers and unhelpful attitudes,” said Maree.

“Children with disability approach me after the program to thank me for coming and teachers are raising access and inclusion improvements in school leadership meetings,” she said.  

This program is delivered by National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Partner in the Community, Social Futures. Social Futures delivers Local Area Coordination services for the NDIS on the Central Coast of NSW and also Northern NSW, Western and Far West NSW.    

Third Sector is hosting the 5th National Child Protection Forum, to register for the event click here.

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Menchie Khairuddin is a writer Deputy Content Manager at Akolade and content producer for Third Sector News. She is passionate about social affairs specifically in mixed, multicultural heritage and not-for-profit organisations.


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