Judith Mckenzie is a lead educator on the University of Cape Town’s free online course, Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion. In this post, she discusses how we can include disability in our schools and the benefits this can bring for everyone.
Judith Mckenzie is lead educator on the University of Cape Town’s free online course, Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion. In this post, she discusses how we can include disability in our schools and the benefits this can bring for everyone.
Listening to a school principal who has contributed to Education for All, I was struck by what she said about parents at her inclusive school. These parents did not grow up among children with disabilities, because during their childhood, those children were either separated from other “normal” children into special education programmes, or not sent to school at all.
Parents can therefore often struggle more with the idea of inclusive education than their children. This made me think about how powerful both exclusion and inclusion are in shaping the way we think about our world. It highlighted for me the need to promote inclusion in education, if we are to develop a socially cohesive society, in which everyone can participate and have a role to play.
Disability is part of diversity
There is currently a lot of talk globally about how to deal with diversity – there is much intolerance of people of other races, religions, genders and cultures, and it’s clear that it is not easy to resolve these differences.
In this mix of diversity, I would also include disability as a category of difference which people are very uncomfortable about and ill-equipped to deal with. I have therefore worked with my colleagues in developing this course, bearing in mind that disability is but one element of diversity that cannot be dealt with on its own.
Including disability in our schools has benefits for everyone
At the same time, I also believe that when we begin to understand how to include disability in our schools and classrooms, it will have a knock-on effect on how we deal with other forms of diversity.
Let me give you an example: when a child who has a visual impairment has their needs met in the classroom, the teacher might make an effort to ensure that everything that is presented visually is also read out orally. This not only helps this child learn, but also makes it easier for children with low literacy levels or a more auditory style of learning. By catering for one form of diversity, the options become wider, embracing an ever greater range of difference.
Inclusive classrooms do not require huge amounts of money or skill
While we make the point that disability is part of diversity, there is also a perception that disability is a medical issue which requires very specialised treatment that can only be undertaken by experts. This would mean that complex resources and skills would be needed to meet the needs of children with disabilities.
However, we will show during this course that inclusive classrooms can meet the needs of most children without a huge amount of money or skill, while also recognising the right of children to receive specialised services where needed.
What is most important is a positive, can-do attitude, a commitment to the right to education for all children, and a willingness to learn. The other vital element which we will discuss is collaboration with and support for children with disabilities, their families, their teachers and schools, and the wider community.
Making use of local assets and your community
The course’s focus on low-resource settings means that we will guide you in the direction of making use of local assets – an approach which can also be very effective in more affluent settings.
We adopt an asset-based approach to developing inclusive schools, as part of the development of the community, which builds upon what you already have in you community. We suggest that this asset-based approach can be more effective when supported by a community of practice.
We know that it is not always easy to bring about change on your own, and that working with others can have a much bigger impact, helping to share the load.
Recognising the rights of people with disabilities
The educators on this course share a common passion for recognising the rights of people with disabilities to fully participate in society. We hope that you will begin to share this passion, and that you will agree with us that education is the critical factor in being able to participate meaningfully in life. We challenge you to take up this cause, not only in theory but also in action.
For this reason, we will include many practical exercises and ideas in the course, so that the talk becomes the walk. We are thoroughly looking forward to this journey and hope that you will enjoy it and bring your own creative ideas to building Education for All.
What is your experience of including disability in your school? Share it in the comments below. Or find out more by joining the free online course, Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion.