Defying Disability through Education

Across many societies around the world, including our own, disability has historically been treated as a curse or a punishment. Thinking about disability differently allows us to see disability as simply another aspect of diversity. The focus now is to enhance the lives of people with disabilities and ensure their access to the same life experiences possible for the non-disabled.

As the parent of a child with a physical disability, I work toward this goal of making the world accessible to my son. My husband and I, both educators, focus on academic knowledge as the foundation upon which to build our son’s future. With today’s advanced technologies, our son’s limitations are fading; his physical disabilities matter much less. Although he is only three years old, we put plans in place very early in his life to be sure that he is prepared to learn and succeed in school and beyond.

At three years old, our son reads at a first grade level, has a basic understanding of math concepts like addition and subtraction, and shows great interest in learning new concepts. We reinforce these skills daily by focusing on communication, academics and a love for learning.


Although our son’s expressive language is significantly delayed because of his tracheostomy, his receptive language skills are excellent. We began teaching him baby sign language at birth, starting with basic signs like “milk,” “hungry,” “play,” “Mommy” and “Daddy.” The use of sign language created opportunities for him to communicate with us, despite being unable to use his voice. A commuhnication app, Tap To Talk, helps him to communicate as well.

As he grew older, we created a vocabulary list of words he would need to know, like colors, clothing items, books and toys, focusing mainly on the items he wanted to play with frequently so he would be motivated to use sign language. We taught him three to five new words every other week, using every possible opportunity to practice the new words frequently. By the time our son was 18 months old, he had a sign language vocabulary of over 100 words that he could sign fluently. By the time our son was two, we also added flash cards for these words so he could associate the written words with the spoken or signed words.

This receptive language focus has translated into high-level reading and writing skills.

Academic Achievement

Other areas of academic focus are the basics of math, history and science, which we achieve through games, educational television, and hands-on activities. For kids, play equals learning, so we ensure that all entertainment has educational value. Although our son had almost no television time before the age of one, we began allowing educational videos at age one to foster his understanding of letters, colors and shapes, among other things.

The use of technology not only allows parents to teach their children, it also allows children to demonstrate what they know. ABC Mouse, BrainPOP, Tiggly, Endless (ABC, Words, and 123), Starfall, Gappy and Tinybop are some of the apps we use to reinforce academic skills.

Enthusiasm for Learning

Creating a setting that makes learning natural and rewarding is the most important aspect of fostering genius. Our son’s toys are all focused on learning, and he enjoys the praise and interaction that come with mastering new concepts. Instead of rewarding dancing, for example, we praise him profusely when he learns a new word. This demonstrates to him our value for education.

Disability creates limitations, but learning can remove many of these limitations. As our son grows, we intend to continue our heavy focus on learning in order to prepare him for a world with fewer barriers.

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Charisse Montgomery is the author of the Super Safe Kids series of books and safety tools. These tools engage children, parents, and their families in improving safety and advocacy in the hospital, the community and the home. A former educator, Charisse Montgomery has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English, along with a master's degree in Educational Psychology, with research focused on informing and empowering parents of medically fragile children. She completed a graduate certificate in Patient Advocacy and serves on the Board at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

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