This article originally appeared on theSeed blog.
INSERTION VS. INCLUSION
Inclusion is a murky word. Proponents of inclusion want to have classrooms, social activities and workplaces where there are disabled and non-disabled individuals getting together, commiserating, cooperating…It scares the crap out of me. Why? Because too many people believe that insertion = inclusion and frankly my friends, it does not.
Let us ask ourselves: have the disabled been integrated into society since the “purging” of the state hospitals (de-institutionalization) began in the 1970’s? By definition, inclusion is “the addition of somebody or something to a group or mixture” (Encarta dictionary). However, inclusion can be nothing more than a simple insertion of an individual into a setting where they are not truly accepted but are merely tolerated. A person can be tolerated without being recognized. Think of that kid that sits alone at the lunch table, not being picked on but not being played with, either. Tolerated but not recognized.
They can be admitted without being incorporated. A student with Down syndrome has a right to be integrated into a non-specialized public school but doesn’t his lack of friends or any after-school programs geared towards his socialization needs and interests prove that inclusion does not equal acceptance? In this case, we are not just talking about his acceptance by his peers; the teachers, administrators, coaches, mentors and the school system as a whole is in question.
Now, “federal officials are telling school districts that they must offer students with disabilities equal access to school sports.” Schools will be required to make reasonable accommodations to include students with disabilities. If doing so changes the nature of the game drastically then new programs that have “comparable standing as mainstream programs” must be created.
This worries me some. There are some unintended consequences I can foresee here. Forcing teachers and coaches to make a spot for a kid with a disability in their “normal” routine they’ve been accustomed to can be traumatic for all involved: the teacher/coach, their current students, and the kid being inserted into the team.
Once, when I was working as a hair designer in my previous life, before inclusion went from being a notion to an action that is actively pursued, a client who was a middle school teacher was venting to her colorist how she was being forced to have special needs kids in her classroom. She commented on how difficult it made her life now that she had to develop a lesson plan for a kid “like that” and still have to be able to teach the “normal” kids. The venting went on for a while and I eavesdropped the whole time. This clearly shows that inclusion must be done in a thoughtful, meaningful way. We can’t just tell a school, “You have four kids with physical disabilities and none of them are on sports teams. Stick them in somewhere by next week.” Can you imagine the resentment towards those four kids felt by the coaches and the other students because of a forced insertion? How will that resentment play out? Ignoring them? Dirty looks? Hurtful words? Physical harm? I know that not all teachers, coaches & students will feel this way but is this a risk you’re willing to take with yourkid? Not I! And yes, I know, nobody is saying that schools will have a week’s time to make the necessary changes. In fact, there’s no deadline for schools to comply which seems like a built-in loophole to me. But there is ALWAYS resistance when institutions that have not complied with ADA regulations for the entire time they’ve been in existence is told that they must make changes. Just take a look at the whole pool-lift debacle.
Another very real concern I foresee is: how can instructors & teachers who have never had any experience with special needs students be expected to include these students without any formal training?? Not everybody can be a special needs instructor. Just because someone is “good with kids” and gets good results in their classroom or on the field does not automatically ensure that they will know what to do when they’re presented with a whole new set of….problems, shall we say? A kid with autism who self-stims, for example, can be hard to deal with when you’re used to things like Tommy taking Sandy’s pencil. Forcing a teacher to take on special needs kids because of an “inclusion doctrine” with little or no training is detrimental to the students and teacher. I have not read anything, anywhere, which talks about appropriate training for these instructors who now have to figure out ways to truly include new athletes.
And of course we will have those ridiculous comments about how enforcing these regulations will only serve to raise taxes and school districts will become even tighter with their budgets. Oh, and now, regular programs will suffer because they will have to be cut in order to funnel cash to creating new programs for those other kids. Do you know what Title IX is? It made huge positive changes for women in sports. It demanded equal sports programs for women as for men and it led to a large increase of female participation in sports. But of course, there were those idiots who found a way to make it a negative by saying men’s sports had to be cut because of Title IX. AND??? Does that mean that women shouldn’t have the same opportunities because now the men have slightly less? Why should it be any different for people who have disabilities?
I started off by saying that inclusion scares the crap out of me but I do believe it is necessary and vital to a healthy society, not only for those who are disabled but also for the walkers, talkers & others who are not disabled. Access to school athletics, whether at the elementary, high school or collegiate level is A RIGHT, not a privilege! Too many times people with disabilities are seen as pity-cases. But guess what, people? There are actually people with disabilities who can do things society believes they cannot. Have you heard of Mitch Ryan? Yeah.
So what is the answer? How can we stamp out stigmas and eradicate discrimination? We can protest and march against the unfair and unequal treatment of those with disabilities. However, to date, research suggests that protests do not promote positive attitudes or increase knowledge about disabilities (Westerholm, et al., 1506).Education is the main conduit to a better understanding of the life of a person who happens to have a disability. The sharing of correct information will assist in the reduction of stigmas attached to individuals who are physically, mentally and developmentally disabled. In the case of mental illness, for example, after-care information is of particular importance because studies have shown that people who only receive information regarding psychological symptoms increased their negative attitudes about the illness (Westerholm, et al., 1506).
There needs to be an attitudinal shift when considering disability rights. Rather than charity it is imperative there be a focus on civil rights; rather than pity, a belief in a wide range of human possibilities is crucial. A disastrous consequence to the stigmatization of the disabled population is the tendency for the disabled to avoid contact with the able-bodied and, conversely, the able-bodied to ostracize the disabled. I have a firm belief that the best approach to reducing stigmatization and discrimination is to increase meaningful personal contact between folks who have disabilities and those who do not, i.e. full inclusion with appropriate training, not just insertion. For the disabled, this dynamic can help foster a sense of trust towards the non-disabled which may increase their willingness to involve themselves with social interactions they may have previously been resistant to. The development of this dynamic can provide for those who are not disabled important information regarding the positive and negative impacts of mainstream society on those who live with disabilities.
Imagine a world where people with disabilities aren’t fearful of the non-disabled and the non-disabled are not uncomfortable around people who are disabled. That’s the world that I want to live in.
THINK ABOUT THIS
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American dedicated to the realization of the equal rights promised to all African-Americans in this country. In his famous speech he described the state of being of African-Americans a century after they were to have been emancipated:
“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”
What he proclaimed was a concept that should have been obvious without being stated – that every person has the right to be treated equally and fairly. We can see very strong similarities between the tragedies that the African-Americans and the disabled citizens of this country have been forced to endure. Must we wait one hundred years after the beginning of deinstitutionalization before the civil rights of the disabled are truly recognized?
Citation: Westerholm, Robert, Laura Radak, Christopher Keys, and David Henry. “Stigma.” Encyclopedia of Disability. 4. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006. Print.
Photo Credit: blprnt_van