Fighting Prejudice and Discrimination of Differently Abled People

 In this lesson, students will work toward understanding what it means to have a learning disability.
Grade Level

  • understand the meaning of the term “learning disability”
  • learn about important characters in history who struggled with learning disabilities and succeeded despite their difficulties
  • consider their own, their school’s, and society’s biases related to learning disabilities
  • discuss ways in which labels about intelligence are used to inculcate prejudice and perpetuate discrimination against people for reasons relating to race and culture as well as learning, and develop more constructive, specific vocabulary for discussing learning needs
  • consider ways to fight prejudice and discrimination against those with learning disabilities
  • make a graphic ‘zine about fighting prejudice and discrimination against those with learning disabilities
Essential Questions
  • What is a learning disability?
  • How can learning disabilities affect students’ experiences at school? How can they affect life outside school?
  • What prejudices have caused schools and society to discriminate against people with learning disabilities, and how can we fight this discrimination?
  • How does prejudice and discrimination against people with learning disabilities connect to other forms of prejudice and discrimination, and what can we do to fight against these biases?
  • What are some advantages of living in a world in which people learn in different ways?


discrimination [ disˌkriməˈnā shən ] (noun) Unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice or bias

intelligence [ inˈtelijəns ] (noun) It is important for students to understand that intelligence can be understood in a variety of ways, and that the types of intelligence most commonly valued by schools are not the only ways to be intelligent. One definition holds that intelligence is the ability to comprehend, to understand or profit from experience.

learning disability [ ˈlərni ng ˌdisəˈbilitē ] (noun) The Learning Disability Association of America defines learning disability as a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language.

prejudice [ ˈprejədəs ] (noun) Adverse judgment or opinion, often of a specific group of people, formed without knowledge of the facts and sometimes leading to hatred or suspicion



In any educational context, there is a wide range of interests as well as learning strengths and areas of difficulty. A specific learning disability can stand in the way of a student’s positive experience of school and learning. And, if the student does not receive necessary support, it can hamper academic achievement. Moreover, even when learning disabilities are diagnosed and children receive help, these students may face discrimination by teachers and their peers due to underlying assumptions regarding the meaning of intelligence. In this lesson, students will work toward understanding what it means to have a learning disability. The goal is make them aware of prejudice and discrimination aimed at those with learning disabilities.



  1. In your notebook or journal, write a fictional diary entry from the point of view of a character who is struggling with some sort of learning. It might be a kind of learning that happens in school, like memorizing a set of dates for a history class. It might be something outside of school, like learning to play the trumpet. Or, it might be something that could happen in or outside school, like learning to speak out when you are feeling shy in a big group of people.  Your diary entry should show that you are trying to understand what it would feel like to struggle with this kind of learning. It should also show how other people might respond to you.
  2. Form partnerships or small groups and share your diary entries. Then brainstorm a list of terms used to insult or discriminate against people who struggle with different kinds of learning. Talk about why you think this sort of discrimination occurs. What kind of prejudice might lead up to it? How does this prejudice compare to others that you know about?
  3. As a class, discuss the term “learning disability.” Consider reasons why struggling with particular types of learning is branded as a disability. What prejudices might cause people with these disabilities to face especially harsh discrimination in our society. Challenge yourself to talk about what people with learning disabilities need by way of support. 
  4. Rejoin your small group or partnership and revisit the list of insults you brainstormed.  Knowing what you do now about learning disabilities, write creative responses to those insults.
  5. In your notebook or journal, reflect on how your discussions have affected your thinking about what it means to struggle with different kinds of learning.


Social Studies

  1. As a class, revisit the term “learning disability” and the different ways people might define it.  Then talk about discrimination that you have seen against those with learning disabilities.
  2. In a small group, brainstorm a list of famous people with learning disabilities, e.g., Patricia Polacco. (Note: Other possibilities might include Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Magic Johnson, Tom Cruise, Leonardo da Vinci). Then, as a class, the groups should take turns sharing their lists. Each group should chose one person. On the Internet or in your school library, research as much as you can about that person’s life and experience. Then create a poster on that person. Focus each poster on the person’s strengths. Show how they handled their disabilities. Also, show the discrimination or struggles they faced.
  3. Hang your posters around the classroom and spend some time circulating to look at your classmates’ posters. Come together to discuss what you have learned.
  4. In your notebook or journal, reflect on what you have learned about learning disabilities and differences. Think about how they might impact on a person’s life. Identify some ways in which differences can be positive. 



  1. As a class, recall the previous conversations you had about learning disabilities, prejudice and discrimination. Then, discuss examples you have seen of prejudice or discrimination against people with learning disabilities in particular areas.
  2. With a partner, work to create a story strip illustrating a story of discrimination against someone with a learning disability. Make sure your story strip uses visuals as well as words to tell the story. Try to focus the story on how to fight against this type of prejudice and the discrimination that results. (Note: As students create their visuals, the teacher will want to circulate and make note of any racial or cultural stereotypes being represented. For example, are the characters who struggle at sports overweight? Are they all female? Are the characters who struggle with reading all racial minorities? The teacher will want to find sensible ways to make these prejudices explicit and bring them up in later reflections and discussion.)
  3. Your class will compile your story strips into a graphic ‘zine about fighting prejudice and discrimination against people with learning disabilities.
  4. In your journal or notebook, reflect on what you came up with in your story strip.  Write about what you will do in the future to fight against prejudice and discrimination based on learning disabilities.
Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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