Winnie the Witch: social model of disability
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When they created Winnie The Witch, Korky Paul as illustrator and Valerie Thomas as author produced a fun way for children to learn about colour.
They also created a unique and valuable tool for teaching children, and many adults too, about different ways of thinking about the social model of disability.
Here’s how the story goes. In this reading of the story:
- Winnie represents society
- the house represents the environment
- Wilbur represents people with impairments or differences
- the birds represent attitudes of everybody else in society
Winnie finds Wilbur a problem because his black fur can't be seen in her black house. He gets in the way.
Society finds disabled people a problem.
Winnie uses her skills to change Wilbur a little, thinking a green Wilbur will be less trouble in her black house. She doesn't ask if he wants to be green, because she thinks she knows best.
Society tries to change or 'fix' individuals with impairments or differences, even when they are not ill or in pain.
Wilbur is still a problem. Winnie makes another, bigger change to Wilbur but makes Wilbur very unhappy because he wants to be himself. Winnie has created an attitude that lets even the birds think they can laugh at Wilbur.
People with impairments or differences don't want to be changed to fit in to "normal" society. They want to be themselves, equals just as they are, taking part and contributing to society. The wrong change creates social attitudes that lead to individuals being treated disrespectfully, just as the right change can make sure every one is equal and respected.
Winnie decides to change her house and keep Wilbur as he is. They can both live happily in the colourful house.
Changes in society remove barriers to everybody living in equality and independence. The moral of the story is it is better to change our environment and attitudes rather than try to change people with impairments or differences!
Winnie The Witch by Valerie Thomas (Oxford University Press, 1987), illustrations copyright © Korky Paul 1987