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disabledism

To a large extent academia is a very sheltered environment. It is, to be sure, ozone that values intelligence and mental normality, but for people with a physical disability, it is very welcoming;. At college,, my group of friends accept me for who I am; they help me whenever it's needed, from helping me make tea to walking me home at night. The slight patronising tones of the kitchen staff aside, I do not feel I am discriminated against in any way at college.

But, as I say, academia is very sheltered. It is a bubble of usually intelligent people, where often my biggest concern ibis whether I'll get an assignment done on time, or whether I've included too little theoretical stuff in my essay. Yet, outside of the bubble, away from the parties and the intellectual freedom, is a world of discrimination against disable people.

As far as I can make out, there are four people with physical disabilities on campus. That's far too few, on my opinion. Four out of 5000 is a disproportionately small number. I do not think that the problem lies with selection - my lecturers seemed all too keen to take me in, but I think I impressed them when I mentioned two film theorists in the interview. Rather, discrimination against the disabled happens before that.

I think there is an expectation at school level that the disabled are unable to cope with higher education, or much education at all for that matter. This leads to many disabled kids going to second rate schools, and this will have a major effect. For this stifling will mean problems getting jobs etc, as well as problems fighting for our rights. How can we effectively fight for social justice when we are denied the foundation of democracy - education? For example, say someone asks for a ramp to be put in place on a public building, and the MP he's negotiating with starts citing old writs which the disabled person cannot access due to his illiteracy? The disabled person has essentially been repressed because the playing field is not level.

Thus I will argue that segregated education is the root of all evil, at least when it comes to discrimination against disabled people. Whenever two sets of people are educated separately, moreover, they learn to fear each other. This applies to gender, religion or ability. Kids who go to catholic schools learn to fear protestants; girls who go to girls-only schools often fear boys, and so on. Comprehensive education came about for this reason, to prevent the class divide, the gender gap and the religious gap. Why does it still apply to disability?

Until education is fully inclusive, and all special schools abolished, disabledism will continue to exist. Why, today, should one group be segregated from the rest? I see no difference between this and apartheid, for all the barriers to inclusion can be easily overcome. It would just take some imagination, and the opening of minds.

see the diary of a goldfish

Comments

Good Comments. A lot of the women I know must have gone to girls' schools (joke). But you are right - inclusiveness should begin at a young age in order to create an inclusive society.

Are you aware that the term "the disabled" is offensive to many politicised disabled people?

Have you joined the Alliance for Inclusive Education which is campaigning for the closure of all special schools?

I do support inclusion WHEN APPROPRIATE. Which is, MOST of the time, for MOST children and students with MOST types of disabilities. And I also agree that, throughout most of history in most countries, inclusion hasn't happened nearly often enough.

However, I would be very careful about swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction. For SOME children with SOME types of disabilities, for at least PART of their education, a so-called "inclusive" environment (i.e., with non-disabled peers) is actually the most EXCLUSIVE environment. One big example is with deaf children (I have been deaf since birth). For many deaf people, sign language is their strongest language (whether American Sign Language, British Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language, or whatever). For a Deaf child, it's not enough to put their body in a seat in a hearing classroom. Even with appropriate accommodations (such as sign language interpreters and notetakers), the deaf child will often experience limited opportunities to communicate freely with his/her classmates because the classmates won't know how to sign. Sure, you could teach them, but they still won't be fluent. This could limit opportunities for the child to learn socialization skills. This happened to me: for a long time I was incredibly shy (too afraid even to ask another student if I could borrow a pencil) and it took me a long time to overcome this. In my case, this was maybe partly inherent to my personality, but also I think very much influenced by the fact that I had very little (nearly zero) practice in starting even the very most basic conversation ("hi, how are you?") with my peers during elementary school. I had no clue how to carry on a conversation until my pre-teens when my Mom finally realized what was going on and sat down to do a lot of role playing with me and simply explained to me how a conversation is conducted (by asking questions about the other person's interests and so forth -- I didn't even know that was standard conversation fare until it was explained to me).

Inclusion is a nice idea, but you have to be very careful that it is done RIGHT. And you also have to give some thought to the full range of needs of each individual child. Looking back, I really wish I could have spent at least a few years of my education (not necessarily all of it) at a good quality school for deaf children, and maybe another year or two or three at a schoool for children with attention deficit disorder (which I also have). Then I could have developed better socialization skills, more confidence in myself, etc. and then been better able to cope in a non-disabled environment. I also really missed having the chance to be immersed in a Deaf CULTURAL environment during my growing up years (one HUGE difference between deafness and other disabilities is that being Deaf doesn't just make you disabled, it also gives you entry into a cultural and linguistic minority community). I missed the chance to grow up with Deaf "oral" (signed) folklore, stories, jokes, cultural norms, etc.

For the record, I am now working in an environment where I am (at the moment) the only person at my large place of employment who can even sign -- all the other thousands of employees here are hearing, except for a very tiny handful who became deaf later in life and don't sign. A few others have other disabilities (wheelchair etc.) but the vast majority are non-disabled. So I certainly don't support permanent "segregation" for people with disabilities! Far from it! But I do think it would be a huge mistake to completely close down all "special" schools. We will always need some around for certain specific purposes for specific populations.

I have been told that some blind people really value the time they spent at a school for blind children because they learned various skills such as Braille and basic every day living skills that they might not have picked up as effectively if they had been thrust into a mainstream environment, even with support services. I'm not blind so I can't speak for them, I'm just passing on what I've been told. I don't think blind people oppose the idea of inclusion either, it's just that (as I understand it) they see some real value in spending at least part of a blind child's education in an environment adapted to their needs.

One possible compromise approach to all this would be to create a combined model -- for example, a school in which maybe 50 to 80 percent of the student body is Deaf, including with Deaf teachers, and the entire environment is geared toward Deaf children, but hearing children are allowed in too (especially children with deaf siblings or deaf parents, but also from the local community who are just interested in a different experience). You would have to be careful, though, to be very attentive to the tendency to structure communication to the benefits of hearing people. Research has shown, for example, that even in supposedly all -deaf environments, the minute there is even one hearing person in the group the conversation turn-taking, attention getting gambits etc tend to be structured around what works for hearing people (e.g., using sound to get attention or regulate turn taking), not what works for deaf people (e.g., using eye gaze to regulate turn taking etc). If subconscious habits and tendencies are allowed to take over, then deaf students would just be right back where they started -- cut off from an environment that was meant to accommodate their needs.

You are right in saying that disabled people are under-represented in universities but I hope that this will start to change in the near future. I agree with Andrea that inclusion is not always the best thing - many disabled children can benefit hugely from special schools for at least part of their education. We have to work hard to make sure disabled people are integrated into society EVEN IF they are not always educated in mainstream schools, and I think this is happening a lot more nowadays compared to 20 years ago - so we are at least moving in the right direction.

how can anyone intergrate properly into society when they are kept away from it throughout their youth?

Not throughout their youth, that's not what I meant or said. I agree with what a previous poster said, that an inclusive environment can put a disabled child at a great disadvantage. I'm not saying special schools are right for everyone with a disability but one size does not fit all. Some children can gain a lot from a special school so I don't think you should totally dismiss them.

The problem is the assumption, I think, that some students won't be able to cope with mainstream education, and that it is better to isolate these students rather than give them the assistance they need to fully participate.

One school we approached for our son said that they would not take the time to assist him up stairs so he would not be able to take part in library classes or music classes because both of those rooms were upstairs. 'Assistance' in his case would have amounted to someone holding his hand, or allowing him an extra five minutes to walk up the steps with a handrailing. That is unacceptable. However, we chose not to make an issue of it, assuming that their attitude would not change, even if forced to accept him. This is, apparently, one of the 'best' primary schools in its area.

I find this so depressing that I can hardly speak of it.

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