Move over, Daniel Tiger: The Northeast ADA Center and Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability are using cartoon characters to bring disability awareness into the classroom.
The Northeast ADA Center, which is located at Cornell University, already provides a variety of educational resources on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including pre-recorded webinars, targeted training, and the Ask About The ADA podcast. Now it is teaming up with the Yang-Tan Institute to develop a cartoon series that will teach students in kindergarten through third grade about disabilities. The project is part of a five-year, $5.5 million grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research to operate the Northeast ADA Center, which is staffed by individuals with and without disabilities who have extensive experience in the disability field.
Our first look at the series came in May of last year, when the Northeast ADA Center released a 30-second trailer on YouTube. In the video, we meet Spike, a German Shepherd service dog. There’s also a yellow Lab service dog named Roxy, an ADA expert named Chris, and a teacher named Ms. Sanders, along with another teacher and a service horse who we’ll meet in future episodes. Spike explains that he and his friends are going to teach the viewer about the Americans with Disabilities Act, including its history, ways to communicate, technology that people with disabilities use, and even how service animals are trained.
Northeast ADA Center has also released the first episode of the series, which follows Spike into Ms. Sanders’ classroom where the pair discuss assistive technology. As they converse, the screen behind them shows videos of real children and teachers. Throughout the episode we see and learn about the variety of accessible technology that students with disabilities use in the classroom on a daily basis, such as text-to-speech, screen readers, FM systems, and AAC devices.
From having a service dog as a lead character to presenting real clips from the classroom, the series aims to help children understand what it means to have a disability and how people do things differently. On the surface, it reminds us of other kids’ shows like Super Why and Little Einsteins. Kids will love the vibrant illustrations and relatable characters, while parents and teachers will appreciate the strong educational message about disability rights.
The series is made for young children, but it’s not watered down. Spike and Ms. Sanders introduce and explain vocabulary like “assistive technology”. They also take on serious topics like segregation in schools. The show explains the importance of disability inclusion in a way that small kids can understand.
We can imagine teachers using these videos at the start of the year to raise awareness about disabilities and create acceptance. The videos would also be a great tool to share at open house or parent-teacher conferences. They could even be used as a part of a teacher training program.
We hope that future episodes include a character with a disability. That said, there’s still plenty of time to do so: The Northeast ADA Center and Yang-Tan Institute plan to release a total of 10 videos by the end of August 2022, with more to come after that. To help reach a wider audience, each episode will be in English and Spanish and will offer audio-described versions of the videos for accessibility. The two also hope to develop a complementary curriculum and pilot the project in schools.
We’re excited to share this resource and see the impact it will have on children, families, and educators alike. We hope it will inspire other agencies like the Northeast ADA Center to take on their own projects aimed at raising disability awareness. Be sure to check out the first video in the series here:
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