Brittney Caracciolo writes:

Disability Awareness Week at Brittney Caracciolo's Middle School“I am the Life Skills Support teacher at Phoenixville Area Middle School in Pennsylvania where I teach students with special needs in grades 6-8. My 19-year-old brother has Klinefelter’s Syndrome and I have always gone with my parents to AXYS meetings whenever possible for as long as I can remember. At the last meeting I attended at DuPont Hospital, they mentioned designating the month of May as X & Y Chromosome Variation Awareness Month. The idea occurred to me that, as a teacher, I have a perfect audience to inform people about these chromosome variations. Not to mention, there are probably students in my school that may have a chromosome variation but don’t even know it. I reached out to my superintendent and assistant superintendent about sending information home to families about X & Y Chromosome Variation Awareness month and they thought it sounded very important and recommended that I speak to my building principal. My principal agreed with the idea of spreading awareness and suggested that we turn it into a week-long awareness campaign and involve student council in some of the planning.

"Crazy" sock day for Disability Awareness Week

To make it more inclusive of the whole building, we took a week and each day we designated a different disability or set of disabilities to feature. We chose: Apraxia, X & Y Chromosome Variation Awareness, Autism, Down syndrome and mental health awareness. Each day, a student-friendly description of the disability or set of disabilities was read over the announcements, along with a reminder to visit the table set up in the cafeteria for more information. Each day, there was also a specific thing to wear. For instance, Down syndrome day the students wore “crazy” socks and for X & Y Chromosome Variation Awareness, the students wore AXYS stickers that Sandy was kind enough to make us. The response was definitely overwhelmingly positive! 900 students and 50 staff got to learn about these disabilities. Many of them had never heard of X & Y Chromosome Variations before. I had several teachers come to me and tell me that they learned something new. It was also great to see so many students and teachers wearing the AXYS stickers. I even just found one on a student’s water bottle, 2 months after the fact! Additionally, I gave each teacher a set of brochures on each disability/set of disabilities for their own personal information. I think that the impact of ‘Disability Awareness Week’ will be long-lasting and I intend to do this again next year. Overall, I would say that I was very fortunate to have such a successful experience and would love for others to try and do something similar if they can. It was not very difficult and in my opinion it was very effective.

I do have a few tips to help people plan their own awareness campaign:

  • Consider your audience. Since I’m in a school with middle-school aged children, it was very important to me to find and make content that would support the students’ understanding. I also sent the AXYS brochures home to the parents but I wanted the students to have an age appropriate idea of the conditions as well.
  • Get people to help you. Although I did a lot of the planning on my own, I did get a significant amount of help from student council and the students and para-professionals in my classroom. There is a lot of time-consuming things that go into a campaign once it’s been approved- making posters, setting up a table, organizing people to be at the table, figuring out how to get information out about the campaign, etc. For all of this, you need some type of support or help. However, the really nice thing is that you can make the awareness campaign however big or small that you want it. Your awareness campaign could simply be putting AXYS brochures with information in people’s mailboxes at work or emailing them to colleagues. It does not always have to be extravagant. However, if you get the chance to do something bigger, I think it will stick out to people more.
  • My final tip (and this is thanks to Sandy) is to publicize your hard work afterwards. Through publicizing it, you are reaching even more people who might then feel confident that they can help spread awareness too. The more awareness the better and we can all help do our part.”