Exploring the social model

WHAT THE JACKDAW SAW by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
FREDDIE AND THE FAIRY by Julia Donaldson and Karen George

The social model of disability – outlined in the Introduction – argues that people are disabled not by their impairment or difference but by barriers in society.  These barriers can be physical but, just as often, they are the result of other people’s attitudes.  Removing these barriers – which can sometimes involve quite small modifications to our own behaviour or ways of thinking – can create greater equality and promote the inclusion of Disabled people.

Just as thinking about everything we have in common is at least as important as identifying our differences, thinking about how we can include Disabled people by making positive changes is more beneficial than simply focusing on negative aspects of their experience. 

Ask

  • Think about all the examples of accessible environments we see around us at school, on streets, public transport and leisure centres.  How do familiar things like ramps, lifts, hearing loops, large print books or textured pavements help to make the world fairer and more accessible for people with impairments?  
  • Consider whether, instead of focusing on how some people ‘can’t’ do things in the same way that others can, it can be helpful to think about how they do them differently. 

Ask

  • Do we sometimes change the way we do things to ensure that everyone can join in with activities?  
  • What does our school do – and what can we do ourselves – to try to include everyone?

These two books illustrate the social model of disability in ways that are both fun and empowering.

What The Jackdaw Saw

What The Jackdaw Saw is written by Deaf children together with Julia Donaldson who herself has a hearing impairment.  A jackdaw flies over land and sea inviting everyone to a party.  Instead of just accepting the invitation, why do all the animals keep touching their heads?  In fact, they have been signing the word for ‘danger’ – but the jackdaw doesn’t understand and flies straight into a huge thunderstorm.  A kindly owl explains and soon everyone joins the party.  There are some handy examples of British Sign Language at the end of the book so that all children can learn to sign the words used in the story.  There is also a read-aloud CD, alongside a BSL interpreted video version, so that everyone can enjoy the tale.

The book functions as a joyful fantasy for children with hearing and other impairments but also questions conventional assumptions by normalising something that our world perceives as unusual.  The fact that most of us don’t use sign language is not inevitable but happens because society is set up for the majority and this can exclude Disabled people and other minorities. 

Freddie And The Fairy

Freddie And The Fairy is about a little boy who is lucky enough to have a fairy offer to grant all his wishes.  Although Bessie-Belle explains that she can’t hear very well, Freddie mumbles his requests and ends up with a frog in place of a dog and a carrot instead of a parrot.  Fortunately, the Fairy Queen is on hand to point out that all Freddie needs to do is make a few simple changes – like speaking clearly and not covering his mouth when he speaks.
The story is funny and touching and Bessie-Belle’s hearing impairment is beautifully integrated.  It shows how it is always helpful to try and express yourself clearly and encourages children to think about the needs of others with impairments.