Children with disabilities
In the earlier history of the United States, many children with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities and/or considered to have mental limitations, were isolated from the so-called normal children. Despite considerable progress in the understanding of the brain function, learning styles, and such laws as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, many children with disabilities are still segregated from other children in special education classes.
The general perception is that children with disabilities are less capable than their counterparts. That remains true for doctors, but it is less useful for others and is mostly unhelpful when applied to our schools. Some schools still see the child through the medical model, which lays the problem of inclusion firmly on the child and their disability. However, schools working from a social model perspective look attentively after the school environment, their attitude, and overall image of a disability.
They realize that understanding and embracing the social model help us change our attitudes, dispel myths, and create good solid foundations and abilities for our children with SEN to thrive in school. In general, our perceptions of disabilities and persons with disabilities, like most human experiences, have evolved. This is evident when you consider that mainstreaming has traditionally been thought of as the process of integrating students with disabilities into regular schools and classes. Today, the term “inclusive education” is not only changing the language of special education, but also it’s intent (Bryan, 2010).
Education is crossing a new frontier and changing in order to meet new demands. Educators are at the forefront of this change as they modify the learning environment to meet new educational standards and to include children with disabilities and those who are at risk. Education for children with disabilities has a history that has involved exclusion and segregation. The move toward inclusion has resulted from the changing of the social, legal, and educational philosophies that have led to individualized programming for children.
The legal requirement that all children must have a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment has been a major change. In addition to including children with disabilities, their families are also involved as decision-makers whose priorities, values, and needs must be reflected in the educational process. Although most professionals support the incorporation of the disabled children with their much healthier coevals, they have different views about who and how they should be included.
The inclusion of children with disabilities into the able children education program changes the role of the educator and makes it more complex. Such involvement has a strong legal base. Service delivery systems for children with disabilities are changing. Some systems are home-based, others are center-based, and some are of a mixed type. As part of the children’s education in natural environments, intervention services are incorporated into early care and education settings. Increasingly, the needs of the total family are considered when services required by children are planning and coordinating. Although there are a lot of excellent services, coordinating the total range of services remains a challenge (Deiner, 2009).
Criticism and concern about the feasibility
Criticism and concern about the feasibility of integrated education for all students to continue and segregated special education settings remain the preferred option for a substantial number of students. Critics of integration have questioned the capacity of the regular education system to take on additional responsibilities associated with the education of students with disabilities, to cater to an increasingly diverse range of abilities and accomplishments, and to ensure that financial support for students with special needs is not reduced.
Although many social benefits have resulted from the integration, stigma results from the failure to meet normative standards of performance, rather than from the setting in which performance takes place, and it may be unrealistic to expect that it will be diminished to any significant extent in the regular school setting. In times of economic setback, the provision of support for students with disabilities, as well as any other aspect of education, whether in segregated or mainstream settings, is likely to suffer from funding cuts.
In Western Australia, for example, a task force set up by the Ministry of Education (1993) to examine educational provision for students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties acknowledged the difficulties of making sweeping changes in the current economic climate and proposed that maximum use should be made of existing resources, consistent with the aims of maximizing the educational achievement of all students and ensuring social justice for those with special needs (Jenkinson, 2012).
At the same time, a concern with academic standards, differing interpretations of school effectiveness, and drive for greater economic efficiency raised questions about priorities for the allocation of resources. The issues for the future provision of education for students with disabilities are by no means clear. Another issue that will need to be faced is how the special needs and entitlements of students with disabilities can best be met within a common curriculum framework.
Principles of social justice demand that all students with disabilities should be enabled to take their place in integrated educational settings. But ideology always needs to be supported by evidence that it will work. The last decade of the twentieth century has seen political ideologies swept away in many countries as evidence that they did not work. We know from many different studies that integration does work under the right conditions.
But opinions are divided about whether there are some students for whom the integrated education will have little benefit, either educationally or socially, and for whom the intensity of support needs is such that the cost of their provision over widely dispersed local schools cannot be economically justified. Some educational systems have retreated from an international stance to one that allows choices in special education. This is less about facing than about recognition of the real concerns that sane parents have about mainstream education (Jenkinson, 2012).
When I met a disabled person
The first time I met a disabled person, I was confused about how to behave, what to say, even what to look at; for example, I was not sure whether to look at the disability or to ignore it and act normally. At the same time, I was very sympathetic and very uncomfortable towards the person. The result of all these confusions was that I ended up acting and looking very weird, which in turn made the person uncomfortable and maybe a little angry. Based on my current knowledge and experiences, I can now be completely normal and comfortable. I know how to react as the situation requires, for example:
- If the person extends the left hand, shake it using your right hand, not your left one. If shaking hands is not possible, a nod of the head is fine.
- “Helping” someone who has a disability is discouraging unless the person has given you permission to do so. People who have disabilities are not incompetent. Although it might be painful to watch someone struggling, a decision to decline your assistance must be respected. If you are asked for help, ask for specific instructions, and follow them carefully. Otherwise, assume that the person is as capable as you are of taking care of themselves.
Bryan, W. V. (2010). Sociopolitical Aspects of Disabilities: The Social Perspectives and Political History of Disabilities and Rehabilitation in the United States. New York: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
Deiner, P. (2009). Inclusive Early Childhood Education: Development, Resources, and Practice. Chicago: Cengage Learning.
Jenkinson, J. (2012). Mainstream or Special?: Educating Students with Disabilities. London: Routledge.