Recently I listened to a compelling TEDx talk by Dan Habib. You can listen to it here:
Dan opens his talk by asking the audience some questions about their school days:
Did kids with and without disabilities study together and learn together?
Did they have a best friend who had a disability?
Did they have a boyfriend or girlfriend that had a significant disability?
Very few of the approximate one hundred in the audience answered in the affirmative.
Then Habib asked the audience to consider and answer the following question:
Did you feel some fear or nervousness when you were a kid about talking to a kid with a disability?
The majority of the audience affirmed they did.
Had I been in the audience, my responses would have been similar.
When I was a kid, there were no children with disabilities in my classes. Children with disabilities were hidden away as an embarrassment and were segregated into what where called ‘opportunity schools’.
Thinking back, my impression is that people with disabilities were not visible in the community and their needs were not catered for. They were not expected to have any participation in society. Often they were targets of taunts and laughter, but mostly ignored and avoided.
However, when I was a kid discrimination wasn’t restricted to people with disabilities. It was a time in which racial discrimination and segregation was more prevalent; before the emergence of women’s rights and children’s rights.
Sometimes when we see how far humanity still has to go towards equality, tolerance and compassion it is hard to see how far we have come. But looking back on the changes that have occurred in just my life time, the progress is obvious, if still insufficient.
Even into my college years I had little contact with people with disabilities and my teacher training made no mention (that I can remember) of catering for students with disabilities, who were still segregated into what became called ‘special’ schools. I don’t recall catering for individual differences being high on the agenda back then.
I worked as a remedial teacher for a few years, supporting students who were achieving below the expected level, of reading mainly. These children were generally of average intelligence but experiencing a learning difficulty. Children falling below average on an intelligence test would still be shunted away to special schools.
I cannot recall the inclusion of any students with intellectual or physical disabilities at any school at which I taught prior to the 1990s when integration and mainstreaming was introduced. Dan Habib says in his talk that, as he was growing up, ‘disability was just a blip on the radar screen’ as well. Maybe this experience was similar to yours?
When Dan came to accept that his son Samuel had a disability and that he would have that disability for life, he realized that they had to create a vision for Samuel, and let ‘Samuel create a vision for himself“.
Part of this was the need for a sense of belonging: to the neighbourhood, the community and the local school. It was this that got Dan thinking about inclusion. Dan goes on to describe the ways in which Samuel was included in the school and the community, and the benefits, for both Samuel and others.
He urges everyone to advocate for inclusive education as the benefits include better communication skills, higher academic achievements, wider social networks and fewer behaviour problems. He decries the fact that, despite the benefits, most kids with disabilities still spend their day segregated.
He explains that the benefits are just as valuable for typical kids who achieve higher academically while learning to be patient, caring, compassionate, and loving. In my more recent years of teaching, I got to see these benefits of inclusion first hand. Not only did the children learn, so did I.
I didn’t just chance upon this TEDx talk. It was included in a great guest post by Gary Dietz on The Cool Cat Teacher’s blog. The post introduced a book, written by Gary, about dads of kids with disabilities and proposed 5 practical lessons for elementary classroom inclusion. The book Dads with Disabilities is described as inspiring and ‘a must read for any teacher working with special needs kids’.
The five suggestions (which I think are based on respect and are applicable for all students) are:
- ‘Meet the student “where the student lives” (where they need to be, at their level of development)
- Presume competence
- Be creative in your use of ‘adaptive’ technology (e.g. use of video and Skype or Facetime)
- Listen to parents and help them listen to the child
- Give “overlooked” children the same chance to shine as the superstars
Vicki Davis is the Cool Cat Teacher. Her blog is consistently among the top 50 education blogs worldwide. Her byline is “A real teacher helping teachers be really excellent”. I agree that she is and recommend her blog to you.
Update from Gary Dietz (12/08/2014):
“The book ‘Dads of Disability’ is now a FREE loan if you subscribe to Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited. And if not, it is on sales as an ebook for $4.99. Look it up on Amazon. (Of course the paperback is still available!)”
How do you view inclusion? What is your experience?
I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.