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Life in a wheelchair comes with challenges that those without disabilities may not realize. Help your students understand what it’s like to use a wheelchair by having them perform everyday tasks in one.

Materials Needed

  • A wheelchair


Borrow a wheelchair from the school nurse or a local disability agency. Have your students take turns using the wheelchair and ask them to perform simple tasks such as traveling from one end of the hallway to another, navigating the lunch line, playing a game at recess, going through a door, getting a book off of a high shelf, etc. After your students have each had a turn using the wheelchair, ask them how difficult it was. If the activity was a social activity, did they feel different? Were they treated differently? What could make performing various activities in a wheelchair easier?

One of the key takeaways your students should understand is that no one wants to feel helpless. It’s important to ask if someone in a wheelchair wants help, instead of automatically doing things for them.

Spotlight: Stephen Hawking

One of the most famous individuals to use a wheelchair would be Stephen Hawking. Stephen Hawking made incredible contributions to the science community. In fact, he is regarded as one of the greatest minds in physics since Albert Einstein. In the 60s and 70s, Hawking worked to develop groundbreaking theories on singularities. He theorized that black holes should emit radiation, which is now known as Hawking radiation. Hawking spoke on his life and living with disabilities to promote his life documentary in the video above. He urged those in the disability community to refrain from focusing on what one cannot do, and instead focus energy into what one can do. Hawking also credited his disability for his achievements, stating that being disabled allowed him to have more time to think and conduct research.

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