Disabled, NOT Unable


Graphic: Christine Hale
IMAGE: Christine Hale

Do you know what kind of work you want to do as an adult? Did anyone ever say you couldn’t do it because you weren’t old enough, strong enough or smart enough? People with disabilities often hear these kinds of discouraging remarks, even as adults. Some people don’t have opportunities to do what they want because other people think they aren’t capable.

Disabilities can be intellectual or physical. Intellectual disabilities make it harder to understand and learn things, especially in school. To tackle this challenge many schools offer smaller classrooms where students with disabilities can learn and work at a comfortable pace. Often, teachers will also try different strategies so that students with disabilities can learn in a variety of ways.

Physical disabilities often affect a person’s ability to move. Wheelchairs and crutches can make it easier for people with physical disabilities to get around. People can be born with disabilities or disabilities can result from an injury. Paralysis, for example, can be caused by illness or an accident. Paralysis makes it impossible to move parts of the body.

Disabled adults can have a hard time finding jobs because some employers think they aren’t capable. Just because you can’t do something as quickly as someone else does not mean you cannot do it at all. What do you feel when someone tells you that you can’t do something? You may think, “Yes, I can!” That’s how some disabled people feel, and they’re often right.



Andrea, age eight, is from Moline, Michigan. She has Down syndrome, a condition she was born with. She loves to play games with people. Her very favorite things are animals and babies. It was hard for Andrea to learn to talk, but now she can read and write. Sometimes it takes her a while to understand, but with patience, Andrea can do a lot of things.


Donald, age ten, lives in Los Angeles, California. He has dyslexia, which is when the brain does not read things correctly. Sometimes words or numbers get flipped, and it makes reading and writing difficult.

What are your favorite activities?
I like to dance, listen to the New Boyz and play basketball with my friends.

How did you realize you had dyslexia?
I took a test after my teacher talked to my mom about having dyslexia.

What should other kids know about kids with dyslexia?
Some of my teachers or friends think that I don’t like reading in school because I have dyslexia, but I do! It just helps me when my teachers and friends remember to give me time to think after they ask me a question. Reading and writing is also fun, and I get to practice the ways my mom and teachers teach me to get better at it.


Emilio, age six, is from San Jose, California. Emilio has autism, a disability that makes it difficult for him to stick to daily activities. Loud noises and making eye contact are things that Emilio struggled with more than his classmates in school. However, Emilio works with a specialist who teaches kids with autism. Last year he passed all of his reading and math end-of-the-year tests with flying colors.

What are you favorite activities?
I like to play Batman and color. I like to play with my baby [sister] and my dog, Oso.

What is your favorite food?
I like pepperoni pizza.

What do you like to do at school?
I like to play with my friends and learn my numbers.

IMAGE: Christine Hale


In the United States, it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people. Disabled activists and their friends worked for many years to stop discrimination. They demanded their rights through protests and sit-ins. Finally, the United States passed a law 20 years ago to protect the civil rights of disabled people. On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made it illegal to refuse to hire a qualified person because of a disability. Schools, courthouses, museums and parks (and other places open to the public) must make it possible for disabled people to enter and enjoy what they offer. Happy 20th Birthday, ADA!


About one in five people in the U.S. have disabilities. That’s almost 50 million people. [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]
• More than one in ten children in the U.S. is disabled. That’s about four million children.
• About one in 200 people in the United States use wheelchairs


Have you ever thought that some of the words you use might hurt other people’s feelings? To find out if words might be hurtful, ask yourself if you would want someone to call you these names.
Retard: When you say this, it sounds like you think that a person can’t learn and can’t get better at something.
Cripple: When people use this word, they aren’t looking past the disability to the person with feelings who might have trouble moving.
Dumb: No one likes to be called “stupid.” “Dumb” can sound like “stupid.” Try saying “someone who can’t talk” or “unable to speak” instead.


• Learn more about disabilities by exploring links on this page: http://www.access-board.gov/links/disability.htm
• Volunteer to work for disability rights. The American Association of People with Disabilities tells how you can get involved: http://www.aapd.com
• Educate family, friends and classmates about the different types of disabilities.
• Remember that everyone has something to offer, even if they are in a wheelchair or have difficulty talking.

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