The Impact of Judgement

Outcome: By the end of this lesson, you will have taken on the perspective of parents of children with disabilities and children with disabilities to better understand how the judgment that they face on a day to day basis is the biggest barrier to inclusion.

Lesson Length : 30 -40 minutes


The Weight of Persistent Judgment 

During our focus groups with families of children with disabilities, parents told us the biggest barrier to enjoying parks and playgrounds is the judgment of other parents and the intolerance, staring, ignoring, and excluding of children with disabilities. 

Most families go to the park to relax. They know their child will be able to play freely, let off steam, and may even make a new friend. For children with disabilities, their siblings and parents, a trip to the park can be anything but relaxing, easy, and fun. The kids may face play equipment that they cannot enjoy. Parents may worry about busy streets and no fences to keep their “runner” inside the park. Parents may have difficulty managing siblings with different play styles and needs. Siblings may worry about the other kids’ reactions to their brother or sister. They may themselves feel conflicted about wanting to both protect them and play themselves.

All of these challenges may be manageable, but when the family feels socially isolated, judged, or ignored it can all become too much. They are excluded from activities and the playing field is anything but level. Parents stated how exhausting this steady exposure to stigma is and how tired they are of “fighting the fight.”


    1. Read Introduction: The weight of persistent judgment 
    2. Activity 1: Read the following quotes from parents. Put yourself in their shoes. Reflect on how it would feel to have your parenting or your child’s behavior judged day in and day out. What can you do to discourage this kind of judgment? 
    3. Activity 2: Read the Dear Everybody letter written by kids with disabilities speaking on behalf of themselves and their experiences out in the community. What can you learn about the judgment and stigma that kids with disabilities face? What changes are they asking for?  
    4. Activity 3: Watch “What if feels like when people stare at my sister”
    5. Answer Pause & Reflect questions

Activity I

Read Quotes from Parents of Children with Disabilities

  • “I usually tell other kids that he communicates differently. Kids are usually fine with that. We were at a park playing basketball, recently, and another kid asked about the sounds JP was making. I said that he communicates differently and is still learning to talk. The kid said, “Well, he needs to grow up!” Then the kid’s parent called him over and made him play in a different area. It was really sad.”

  • “I’d rather have someone say something stupid than not say something at all. It’s another thing to be intentionally rude, but asking a question is better than nothing. Maybe they’re not using the right words. They might ask ‘Is your kid retarded?’ or might use the wrong term or might assign a diagnosis. But I’d rather they try to connect. I hear ‘Oh, my dad used to work with retarded people.’ I’m like, okay, now I can work with that.”

  • “I wish people would be less judgmental and more compassionate.

  • ” I can’t think of any one horrible experience that we’ve had taking Gabe out. It’s more a little bit all the time.”

  • “Don’t judge my child or me.”

  • “Question your assumptions about me or my child. Take the time to try to figure her out. Don’t make snap judgments.”

Activity II

Read Dear Everybody Letter, Holland Bloorview

Dear Everybody,

We live with our disabilities every day. You might think that’s the biggest problem but it isn’t. The biggest problem is the world that’s full of stigma around living with a disability. People are afraid to offend so they avoid asking questions or making conversation. But we need to get these answers out there, we need to start talking. So we’re putting it all out there. Every line of our letter helps people understand our lives, puts a little information into our world and takes a little stigma out of it. So read and share because a world without stigma is a better world for everybody. Here we go.

  • Not everyone with a disability looks like they have a disability.
  • Just because someone doesn’t do something the way most people do it, doesn’t mean they can’t do it.
  • Being afraid to say the wrong thing to someone is no reason to ignore them.
  • Whispering is rarely as discreet as you think it is.
  • Talking to someone with a disability like they’re a baby is rude unless they’re a baby.
  • Just because someone doesn’t speak the way you do, doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say.
  • If being around someone with a disability makes you feel uncomfortable, you aren’t around someone with a disability enough.
  • If we can’t include everyone in a game, we aren’t playing it right.
  • Got a question for someone with a disability? Ask them. Not the person with them.
  • Advocating for your own inclusion is tiring.
  • Not everyone in a wheelchair needs to be fixed.
  • Asking is better than assuming. But do you need to know?
  • Prosthetic arms are very cool, but staring isn’t.
  • Disability isn’t awkward but stairs and doors can be.
  • People with disabilities have good days and bad days, just like you.
  • Sometimes concentrating looks like fidgeting.
  • There’s no such thing as normal.
  • If someone’s voice is hard for you to understand, talk to them more. You will get better at it.
  • Sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how awesome someone’s life is.
  • There are things that people with disabilities don’t get about disability too.
  • If someone communicates differently than you, still say “hi.”
  • Feeling sorry for someone with a disability never makes them feel better.
  • Anyone can be included. Just accommodate.
  • Having a disability is different than being sick.
  • Grownups need to treat people with disabilities the way kids do.
  • Using a communication device takes a lot of concentration and it can be exhausting.
  • Let your kid talk to someone with a disability.
  • Not everyone who uses a wheelchair can’t walk.
  • Overstimulation can look like bad behaviour. It’s very different.
  • If you’re inspired by someone with a disability, make sure they did something inspiring.
  • Nobody likes being stared at.
  • Holding a door can change someone’s day.
  • Some people pay better attention to conversations when they don’t make eye contact.
  • Why aren’t there any superheroes that use a wheelchair?
  • Just because someone needs more time to do something doesn’t mean they are less able.
  • Chats about making things accessible for people with disabilities should include people with disabilities.
  • Some curbs and steps might as well say: ‘People who use wheelchairs are not welcome here.’
  • Before you start helping someone who uses a wheelchair, ask if you can help them.
  • Having to prove that you need an accommodation can be very frustrating.
  • Let kids without disabilities be curious about disability.
  • It’s good to learn about someone’s disability. It’s better to learn about what you have in common with them.
  • Navigating this world in a wheelchair takes a whole lot of planning.
  • Everyone deserves to be accepted.
  • Nobody expects you to know everything about disability. Ask questions.

Thank you for reading. If you discovered one new thing about living with a disability, then we already live in a better world. Please share this letter and help us start an even bigger conversation. – From the kids of Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. (2020, September 30). Dear Everybody-Letter. Retrieved from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital:

Activity III

Watch "What it feels like when people stare at my sister"

Pause and Reflect:   

  1. What lines in the dear Everybody letter stood out to you the most? Why?
  2. What did you learn from listening to Max talk about his sister?
  3. Write down three ways you will change the way you will interact with other parents at the park
  4. Write down three changes to how you will interact with a child with a disability moving forward.