Understanding Our Different Abilities

Understanding Our Different Abilities (UDA) is a parent-run volunteer program in all five Needham elementary schools. The goal of this Program is to teach children to respect those around them regardless of physical, emotional or learning differences. Through hands-on activities and group discussions we communicate the core theme of our program to students: each person is similar to us in some ways and different from us in others, but we are ALL different and we are ALL individuals deserving of kindness and respect.

Understanding Our Different Abilities is a powerful program for students, teachers and parent volunteers and is aligned with the Needham Public Schools’ social emotional learning curriculum.

Program Overview

The central component of the Understanding Our Different Abilities Program is a hands-on workshop focused on a different type of disability in each grade:

Kindergarten: Introduction

  • Grade 1: Blindness and Visual Impairments
  • Grade 2: Deafness and Hearing Loss
  • Grade 3: Physical Disabilities
  • Grade 4: Learning Disabilities
  • Grade 5: Developmental and Cognitive Disabilities

With the exception of kindergarten, students rotate through 3-4 activity stations highlighting some of the specific characteristics of the disability being focused on. Activity stations have included exploring Braille materials (1st grade), learning the American Sign Language alphabet (2nd grade), maneuvering the cafeteria line in a wheel chair (3rd grade), participating in a computer simulation of attention difficulties (4th grade) and discussing what someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder might experience when trying to make friends (5th grade).

In grades 1-5, students also hear from a guest speaker who discusses his/her experiences living with the disability they are learning about. In addition, we host an all-school (and sometimes all-district) kick-off event for students in grades 1-5 (depending on content kindergarten students may be included in this event).

Teacher & Parent Feedback

  • “A very important topic! I loved the centers - so well thought-out, introduced, and meaningful for children.”  1st Grade Teacher
  • “It was great! The assistive tech[nology] piece was amazing to see the kids so engaged in.”  3rd Grade Teacher
  • “It was a great discussion about differences and letting kids know that it is ok to be friends with others who are different.”  5th Grade Teacher
  • “Thank you thank you - awesome program!!!!”  Parent of a 3rd and 5th Grader
  • “I can’t thank all of you enough for bringing this valuable program to third graders. My son learned a great deal and enjoyed the program!”  Parent of a 3rd Grader and Kindergartener

Volunteers Needed!

We need parents to help make the Understanding Our Different Abilities program a success! Parents can volunteer in one of three ways:

  • Workshop volunteer (time commitment: 1 hour on the workshop day)
  • Grade-level curriculum team (time commitment: approximately 5 hours in the month prior to the workshop plus workshops)
  • Program leadership team (time commitment: approximately 10 hours/month (September-April) plus workshops)

Our programs are offered during the school day so unfortunately, there are limited volunteer opportunities for parents who are available only after school hours.

Please contact us at uda@newmanptc.org to learn more!

The Understanding Our Different Abilities Program was formerly known as Disability Awareness.