Thursday, June 23, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Redefining Inclusion

I think we need to redefine inclusion.

Many people seem to have this inaccurate, and frankly, kind of bizarre, notion of what inclusion actually is.  Case in point:  this wonderful post about an ignorant teacher from Robert Rummel-Hudson, whose daughter, Schuyler, has a rare disability called Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria.

" was as if the concept of inclusion meant that Schuyler had a right to be parked in her class and to watch the other students, the REAL students, learn. Inclusion appeared to mean being a face in the class photo."

As a physically disabled student in high school, I faced this attitude on a regular basis.  I frequently sat in the classroom feeling like an island as other students swarmed around me doing one project or another that was inaccessible to me.  I had very few social interactions - no one ever asked me to join their group, and even when groups were assigned, the projects were usually motor-skill oriented, such as a poster.  Once again, I'd be the island, sitting feeling lonely while everyone else was having fun.  No one - teachers or students - ever asked me how the classroom environment could be more accessible to me.   No one ever asked what my needs were and tried to meet them.  No one knew what to do with me, so instead of asking, they simply did nothing.  And yet, I'm sure if you asked any one of the administrators at my school, they would tell you that I was fully included for all six years I was at that school.  I blame it on ignorance and lack of training.

Inclusion isn't about parking a kid with a disability in a classroom with no support whatsoever, and expecting them to succeed; or worse, expecting nothing from them so the kid becomes some sort of human wall decoration.  It's about making the classroom environment accessible to everyone.  It's about making sure that every kid who's in that classroom can and will learn, even if it's only one thing.  It's about helping every child, regardless of ability/disability, succeed.  I don't expect teachers to know right off the bat every single adaptation that they will have to make for every single student.  Hopefully, as general education teachers get more special ed training, many of those adaptations will already be in place.  But I do expect teachers to question themselves and their students so that the classroom is the most accessible that it can be.  We must not simply include students with disabilities, but we must accept them, integrate them into our classroom, and embrace their potential, just like we should do with every student.

So yes, I think we need to redefine inclusion.  Shout it loud, from the hilltops, from schools all across the globe, with all our unique voices, that inclusion is not a place.  Inclusion is a practice.  Inclusion is a right.  And a weak, half-assed facsimile of inclusion is worse than no inclusion at all.