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Activity 16 - Challenging disablist language, bullying and harassment


To gain an understanding of disablist language and how it can lead to 'othering' behaviours and change student attitudes.

Curriculum area(s)

  • Year 5 upwards
    • Citizenship
    • RE
    • Tutor time
    • English
    • History
    • Whole school anti-bullying

NB teachers

Read the guides for Resources (h) and (i) below before working with class on these areas.

Suitable for adults with learning disabilities?


Learning outcome(s)

  • To gain understanding of disablist actions in history and the negative language that arises.
  • To know the origin and meaning and misuse of perjorative language to people with learning disabilities.
  • To develop a sense of injustice at the use of disablist language and bullying and develop empathic approaches.

Time required

1 hour to 5 hours


  1. A3 summary sheets of the historic treatment of people with learning difficulty
  2. A3 Primary
  3. Downs Syndrome sheet
  4. Be An Informative Detective (KS2) All Different All Equal (KS3-5)
  5. A-Z of Origin of Offensive Disablist Language
  6. Large sheets of paper (1 per group of 4-6) and 2 large coloured felt tip pens
  7. Disablist Language - Where does it comes from?
  8. Staff resource for discussion on disablist language
  9. More detailed staff guidance on tackling language-based disablist bullying
  10. Nazi T4 programme killing the useless eaters
  11. Press Sagamihara Japan
  12. Disability Hate Crime rises 41% in year 2014-2015
  13. Crown Prosecution Service Schools Project - Disability Hate Crime


  1. Use A3 sheets on the Historic Treatment of People with Down's Syndrome/learning disability that is relevant to your student age group (either Resource (a), (b) or (c) above). Work in pairs to complete either Information Detective or All Equal All Difference Questionnaire (Resource (d) above). Discuss results as a class.
  2. (a) In groups around a large sheet of paper note down all the words they have ever heard/used about people with learning disabilities. (b) Circle in a different colour all those that might be positive. (c) How would they feel if this was them being insulted? Discuss findings and what should be done about it in class, in school, outside and online.
  3. If short of time, use Resource (g) above to match negative words and meanings and then discuss as 2(c) above.
  4. Look up and record the origins of commonly used disablist words applied to people using A-Z of Offensive Language (Resource (e) above).
  5. Whole-school approach. This is best tackled as a whole school/college issue. Hold a staff meeting/training day. Then hold assemblies. This might be presented by a group of students who have training on the issue. (See examples on ABA website of such training and assemblies:
  6. Class or tutor group discussion examining the consequences of diminishing people's humanity by name-calling and how it leads to bullying, harassment, violence and ultimately murder, both in the past by Nazi state and as hate crime around the world. Use recent murders in Japan (Sagamihara) and on the streets of the UK.

Ideas for follow up

Use material from Crown Prosecution Disability Hate Crime to further explore origins and solutions in class.

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Contact us

About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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