Benefits of inclusion

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:

  1. ‘Meet the student “where the student lives” (where they need to be, at their level of development)
  2. Presume competence
  3. Be creative in your use of ‘adaptive’ technology (e.g. use of video and Skype or Facetime)
  4. Listen to parents and help them listen to the child
  5. 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.

 

30 thoughts on “Benefits of inclusion

  1. Pingback: Helicopter Parent | Dads of Disability

  2. Pingback: How inclusive are you? | Norah Colvin

  3. garymdietz

    I think we need to be very careful to assume some folks with different disabilities are “cheerful” or it is “their smile” that causes acceptance — or that they are “preternaturally happy.” Why?

    1. It takes a bit of humanity away from people to imply they are always happy or accept everything with a smile. Folks with disabilities have all sorts of moods.

    2. As I often say, doesn’t a grumpy student who has a disability deserve as much acceptance and support as a student with a disability who is charming?

    Best to all,

    Gary

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and continuing the discussion, Gary. Your points are extremely valid. I think generalist statements bundling all ‘folks with different disabilities’ together is also taking away a bit of their humanity. Stereotypes don’t do anyone any good, and need to be eradicated. I think respect for the individual, who they are (thoughts, feelings, abilities etc), and meeting them where they are is very important. I appreciate your sharing the richness of your experience. 🙂

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  4. writersideup

    I agree that, when possible, inclusion is beneficial for all involved. I guess it depends on the disability and to what degree the child is disabled, right? If a child has physical, not mental disabilities, there should be little-to-no extra effort having to be paid by the teacher so said teacher can still teach the whole class effectively. I know it’s expensive to accommodate many disabilities, so the schools’ administrations would have to balance the budget accordingly somehow. I’d certainly rather see money spent on those accommodations than all the money sunk into sports!

    My daughter teaches Special Ed for 3rd through 5th graders, all in the same classroom. She has an aid or two, but they don’t actually teach. It’s not easy for her, but she does it. I’m very proud of her 🙂 I just wish all the parents of these children were understanding. It’s the ones that can’t accept their child’s limitations and blame the teachers that make her (and other teacher’s) life miserable in that way.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Donna,
      Thank you so much for stopping by with your comment. Your daughter has had far more Special Ed experience than have I. I’m sure she would have a lot of knowledge and advice to share. I would like to say that I admire parents of children with disabilities but I have read a number of articles by parents recently who say they are not heroes. However, from my perspective I feel very grateful to have had two healthy, able-bodied, intelligent children and wonder how I would have coped had it been otherwise. I think it must be very difficult initially, and in the long term, for parents to accept the ‘limitations’. I guess if the focus is always on the limitations, rather the potential, then the attitudes will be negative. As Gary says in his article (and in his book) we need to expect competence; and we need to look at what can be achieved – the cans rather than the cannots.

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  5. garymdietz

    I love all of these comments. You have thoughtful followers Norah. Without belaboring the point, not all advocates like “people first” language. For example, some Autistic folks hate being called a “person with Autism” and prefer being called an Autistic or an Autistic person.

    The approach I try to take is to “mix it up” and expect that someone could (will?) be offended by something most all the time. But try to keep the writing and thoughts authentic and filled with support so that most people will be able to get past any language that unintentionally offends.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Gary, Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I do have a lovely set of followers who add so much to my posts with their thoughtful comments. I appreciate what you have added here. How to use language to avoid giving offence is always a dilemma. I like the way you describe having a balanced approach and mixing it up a little. I agree that authenticity is paramount, along with respect. I appreciate the stimulus that your article provided for this post and the discussion that ensued. It is a very important topic. I’m certain that many will benefit from the insights and understandings to be gleaned from reading your book. Best wishes to you and your family. 🙂

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      1. garymdietz

        Thanks Norah! And to add just a touch of commerce here (it didn’t get into the original post on Cool Cat Teacher on time…) 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!)

        Cheers,

        Gary

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  6. Bec

    Hi Nor, thanks for your article on this very important issue. I like that you use the term ‘kids with disabilities’ rather than ‘disabled kids’ as can sometimes be used. I feel the power of language is very strong, and this subtle shift in terminology gives ‘person’ status to those folks who are so often dehumanised by being defined by their disability, rather than being defined by who they are.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, Thanks for your comment. I am still trying to learn, to shift my language to be more inclusive. The language that I grew up with did not consider issues such as you describe. It is easy to be less sensitive than one would wish, simply as a result of habits learned and formed in childhood which can go unnoticed unless attention is drawn to them. The wider the conversations around issues such as these, the greater will be the understanding and acceptance. 🙂

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    2. Annecdotist

      Bec, I wholeheartedly agree with you but obviously don’t even manage to stick to my own principles as I have referred to “disabled children” in my rambling comment!

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      1. Bec

        Hi Anne, it’s lovely to hear from you as always! I’m sorry about my comment – it was in no way directed to you!! I am lucky to have a good friend who has worked in support for people with disabilities, so it is thoroughly thanks to her teaching me about these issues that I think about the phrasing and the power of it for inclusion of folks who have disabilities.

        The “anecdote” you described about the kids given prostheses to be more “normal” is very sad – the good intentions to help kids fit in being a problem in themselves. I guess like you say, it takes lots of work to get things right – correcting what were probably kind-hearted but misguided intentions from the past, and making sure we are moving toward a respectful and open future 🙂

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        1. Annecdotist

          Love these recent comments from writesideup and Gary. At the risk of contradicting myself (which, after all, is why I write fiction), I think language matters but it would be a pity to get too hung up about it. Inclusive actions and policies matter more.
          And, Bec, I didn’t take your comment as a criticism but as a helpful reminder, and I always love hearing from you here.

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          1. Norah Post author

            Thanks Anne. The comments all round have been great and added some depth of understanding to the concept. I certainly have a lot of growth and learning to do in this area and the discussion helps that along. I agree that actions are policies are essential and it is the language that formulates them. The language needs to be positive, inclusive and non-divisive. It’s not an easy task. As long as it is at least two steps forward for every one back we will still make progress. Thanks for continuing the discussion. 🙂

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  7. Annecdotist

    I completely agree with you, Norah. Like you, I grew up at a time when disabled children were segregated and further disabled in the process, so didn’t know any kids with disabilities and certainly didn’t have them as friends. There was a girl with a mild learning disability at my secondary school, although not in my class, who was befriended by “the bad girls” and enticed to set off the fire alarm as a prank. In some ways this sounds like an argument against integration, as she was exploited, but I learned something from the fact that she was never punished for what she did but the girls who led her on were.
    I think it will take a few generations of integration before we get it right. If the teachers and other carers haven’t had the opportunity to mix with people with disabilities when they were young it’s quite possible that, despite their best intentions, they’ll still be influenced by those early prejudices. When I worked in mental health care I used to do some teaching on this and used an exercise that we called “a person I knew as a child” which asks people some questions about attitudes to people who were different in some way similarly to the questions Dan Habib uses in his talk. We felt that asking people about their prejudices as children enabled people to address stereotypes without the embarrassment and guilt that might ensue if there were asked about their current behaviour. We did quite a bit of work based upon Wolf Wolfsenberger’s social role valorisation http://www.socialrolevalorization.com/ – I have to say with mixed results as the level of integration he advocates is quite challenging to provide.
    Like Geoff, I’m grateful that my mother didn’t take the drug thalidomide during her pregnancy with me or my younger sister. I went to an exhibition a couple of years ago at the excellent Wellcome Institute in London where there was some filming of young children with disabilities caused by the drug. It was harrowing to see that initially they tried to get them to use prostheses which would make them look more normal – i.e. false arms and legs – but actually disabled them further because they weren’t able to use the bodies they had as efficiently as possible. In contrast, there was some lovely footage of little kids prancing around with their nondisabled peers and a lovely young girl raising a cup to her mouth with her feet.
    For those of us who haven’t been exposed to this level of disability as children it still embarrassing to find ourselves curious about different bodies. But I think we do need to look if we can find a way of doing so without making the object of our gaze uncomfortable. The Paralympics was great for this because we were allowed to admire and stare and wonder at the same time. I’m not very interested in sport but I really enjoyed the London Olympics and then found the Paralympics even better. Yet only two years on our government is withdrawing benefits from people with disabilities which will further damage their opportunities for integration. I’m also furious that, despite the disability discrimination act http://www.iprow.co.uk/gpg/index.php/Disability_Discrimination_Acts_-_summary being about ten years old, people with disabilities are still unable to access some public buildings and a lot of people seem unaware of their rights and responsibilities. A very minor example is a woman at my choir who uses a Zimmer frame due to arthritis: she told me that she’d had to stop going to her previous choir because rehearsals were in a building with a lot of steps. She seemed resigned to this and wasn’t particularly convinced by my efforts to persuade her that this was actually illegal.
    I know I don’t need to apologise for this rant but do thank you for accommodating it! Keep up the good work.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Anne,
      Thank you so much for the richness of your content. I had not previously heard of Social Role Volarisation and enjoyed reading about it and Dr Wolfensberger. The changes that he proposed and instigated have had enormous impact, fortunately. I was interested to hear about the exhibition regarding children who had been affected by thalidomide. It reminded me of a similar one I had seen documenting the effects of Agent Orange. I think you are correct in saying that it will take a few generations for full integration and acceptance to occur. Speakers such as Dan Habib and Gary Dietz will certainly help towards that. As will people, such as yourself and your fellow choir member, who draw inequalities to the attention of those who can effect change. We all need to speak up and say when we notice things that are unacceptable. I appreciate your ‘rant’ as I learn so much from you. You have such an enormous depth of understanding and experience that you add so much with each comment. I think you have sufficient here for a post of your own. I have a few books to suggest for reviewing if you wish to take that path (you have probably read a few others anyway). I’m thinking of “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking; “Ugly” by Robert Hoge; “The Woman who changed her Brain” by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young; and “Life without Limits:Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life” by Nick Vujicic, just for starters. I know you are not into non-fiction so much, but you are certainly aware of Stephen Hawking. The other three titles are more autobiographical/memoir. Robert Hoge and Nick Vujicic are local Brisbane ‘boys’ so you may not have heard of them, and Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is Canadian. All very inspirational. You have raised so many points in your comment, I don’t think it should languish solely as a comment on my post!! Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

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      1. Annecdotist

        Thank you for your support, Norah, and for those suggestions of books to read. I was going to say that I’m ashamed to say that we have “A Brief History of Time” on our bookshelves but I’ve never looked inside, but actually I’m not ashamed of my laziness. I like learning new things but at this stage in my life I’m not prepared to work as hard for it as you might be! So I doubt that post will happen unless it is inspired by fiction, which is always a possibility: Animal’s People which is about a young man severely disabled as a result of a chemical explosion in a fictionalised Bhopal is one that comes to mind. But I’ve kept a copy of my response as you can never say never. Thanks for giving me the space to spout forth – this is a good place for them to be because of the link with your thoughtful and inspiring post.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I don’t think it lazy to have not read “The Brief History”. I ‘read’ it but really have little recollection of its content. We each make our own choices of what to read and, sadly, we can’t read everything. I have read so little fiction of late. Am I ‘lazy’? I hope not – just making other choices. I’m thinking I will write about those books I mentioned anyway. You can add the fiction titles – that will be a nice balance! What do you think? 🙂 And, maybe I still have more to learn than do you!?

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          1. Annecdotist

            Sounds great! I wondered if you’d write about those books you mention and I’d certainly be interested in your thoughts. Now racking my brains for more fiction titles.

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            1. Norah Post author

              I don’t have any experience as a book reviewer, but I’m considering giving it a go – for these books anyway. I think they are wonderful stories to share. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

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  8. TanGental

    When I was 12 – 1968 /9 – and into my second year at Grammar School in south London a boy joined the first year. He was a victim of thalidomide and was the first person with a disability I remember meeting. His legs had no lower bones and he had a flapper for one arm but had one working arm and that got him by. The school had stairs, door jambs that were traps for wheelchairs etc but the school took him because he was so bright. And cheerful. As he was in the year below I didn’t know him (and I left the school about 6 months later) so my personal memories are rather vague now. It didn’t make me comfortable with disability when I met some people later. I didn’t spend enough time around him for that. But my former student colleagues must have benefitted from that experience. And his smile. That’s what stays with me most. His being in the playground at break with classmates and smiling. I wonder what happened to him. Incidentally my mother was offered thalidomide for her morning sickness with me. Fortunately she hated any sign of weakness so refused it. Another of life’s what ifs.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Geoff,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences and responses. The use of thalidomide to combat morning sickness had very real and very tragic results. You had a lucky escape! It’s lovely that you remember the smile. That’s what I remember most about a little boy I taught a few years ago (he has now passed) – his smile, his strength and his generosity of spirit. We all learned a lot from him. His parents named a star after him and it’s lovely to think that the brightness of his life will shine on in our memories.

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      1. TanGental

        Wow what a brilliant idea. Just now I’m fortunate to work as a volunteer with a group if young adults with a mix of challenges – autism, Downs, some learning difficulties. Some days the buzz for life they give off is worth bottling.

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          1. TanGental

            It may be that; or, along similar lines, they deal in the here and now. If it is enjoyable they enjoy it rather than hanker for something else because they know there’s something better that they’re not getting.

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