When I was growing up and at school in the 1970's, disabled children were educated in 'special schools'. At my school there was a girl with Spina Bifida and me, whose only visible 'disability' was that I wasn't allowed to partake in sports as a result of my condition. That was it!! In a school of some 1500 puplis. At that time in seemed that the norm was to educate disabled children apart from their non-disabled peers. I think this had a damaging affect on how my generation (as a whole) perceived the whole subject of disability. Our attitudes were seriously affected. Disability was seem as something that was strange and even scary. The only time we ever saw a disabled person was during the Blue Peter appeal when they collected bottle tops and silver foil for Riding for the Disabled (as in was called) or to re-house people like Joey Deakin in warden controlled adapted homes.
As a rule, if children are confronted by something that they do not understand or are frightened by then they resort to either being cruel, or by making jokes about it. People of my generation will remember all the Joey Deakin jokes that were about in the late 1970's. But how can ths kind of attitude, which is by any definition, disablism, be combated?
For many years, in this country, there has been a debate about and whether disabled children should be educated in mainstream schools, or whether they should receive 'specialist' education. True, there is the need for schools that cater exclusively for cetain conditions. Schools for blind and visually impaired children and for deaf and hard of hearing children are essential, but in my opinion, where possible, disabled children should be intergrated in to the mainstream education system. The more disabled children that can be educated in this way, the more that negative attitudes can be challenged.
Of course the main reason that disabled children should be educated within the mainstream education is that they receive the best education possible. It is my belief that in the past disabled children have not been able to reach their full potential by being in 'special schools'. I will provide an example.
Lily's daughter Sybil has just turned 6 and when she was 2 years and 9 months old she went to a special unit because when she went to pre-school it was felt that she was not coping. When she was 3 she was diagnosed as Autistic. Lily tells me that she really hated the unit. She was frightened all the time because as we know the Autism Spectrum is very wide and she couldn't cope with the children in the units different behaviours.
Sybil's condition means hat although she is high functioning she would find it impossible to cope with being in a large class without support. Her reasonable adjustment allows for a key worker to be with her all day at school and she uses a laptop. Lily has told me that her progress since being at school has ben very good. She interacts much more with people than she did when she was in the unit. She is stimulated by her environment and loves going to school. Her reading age is that of a 10-year old and because she has a key worker she is able to focus on this. It is by being around other children though that has benefited her the most. Until quite recently large groups of people scared Sybil but when we went to Cornwall on holiday recently we went to a park full of very noisey and boisterous children. Sybil wasn't bothered at all and really enjoyed playing on the swings and slides. I'm not at all convinced that had Sybil been in a specialist unit that kept her apart form noisey boisterous children that she would have been able to cope with that playground.
It is not just the disabled child that benefits from inclusive education though. Teachers and more importantly non-disabled children also benefit. If disablism is to be tackled, then early contact with disabled children is essential. A lot of disablism is not because of prejudice (although the rise of the far-right groups such as the BNP is worrying. We must remember who the first target of the Nazi's were). It is ignorance and lack of understanding that is the biggest cause of disablism in my view. The sooner our children are educated together then the better chance there is that ignorance of disabled peoples needs can be addressed.
It is my hope that with the next generation, disabled people will be treated with respect and understanding and not be thought of as scary or burdensome. If non-disabed children have disabled schoolmates and vice versa, then everybody's needs can be addressed without any second thought.
Disablism exists. It is out there are needs to be challenged everyday. Disabled people are still second class citizens. Not enough provision is being made within the transport system ( and I could do a whole series of posts about that little subject), access to many places is still very poor, career paths are affected and we all know about the fight to what is rightfully ours within the benefit system. However, with the rise of inclusive education maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our future generation is being educated together and we must stand up and challenge those who shout that there is no place for disabled children in mainstream education.The Goldfish
must be thanked for coming up with the idea for Blogging Against Disablism Day and making that idea into a reality. It started small and has grown into something really quite wonderful. Cheers, you're a star. Lady Bracknell
has also been involved to quite a degree too. Thanks to her too.