Growing a Tree

"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."

Archive for the month “March, 2012”


Inclusion is an incredibly touchy subject, and everyone has a unique opinion. It is probably one of the most contested subjects in the world of disability rights.

I’m going to put a stake in the ground here and now. I think it is in the best interests of individuals with disabilities to have full inclusion. There is no such thing as part-time inclusion – either you’re included or you’re not.

I strongly feel it is a failure of imagination (though not intentional or vicious) that leads to pull outs, self-contained classrooms, and other barriers to full inclusion. I also firmly believe that sometimes parents are their children’s worst enemies when they say their child “cannot” be included due to the severity of the diagnosis.

What I propose is hard. I know it. I am married to a high school teacher with 120 students on his case load. He and I have talked at length about what this might look like. I am also a former teacher and have some familiarity with what I suggest here.

But what I propose is not impossible. It’s just going to take some revolutionary thinking on the part of parents, teachers, and administrators.

So what might full inclusion look like?

  • no more waiting for people to be “ready” to do things and choosing arbitrary skills to determine that readiness
  • no more forcing functional skills that have no lasting impact in the long run (example: demanding a child learn to walk instead of achieving mobility with a wheelchair)
  • not being satisfied with inclusion only during art, physical education, and lunch
  • no longer referring to students as “special ed students,” “SPED kids,” “CD students,” etc – names work just fine, these labels serve to separate students
  • high expectations of ALL students, no matter how many services they receive
  • no more “reverse mainstreaming” (children visiting special education classrooms to serve as role models)
  • encouraging peer-to-peer support wherever and whenever possible (including opportunities for students with disabilities to help those without disabilities)
  • all students attend their own IEP meetings
  • aides help teachers and all classroom students instead of hovering around just one student
  • teachers and students have the latitude to fail, and the ability to work together to come up with better solutions

Right now, it is acceptable for children to leave the classroom for all sorts of services and supports. Why is physical therapy done in a pull-out? Why can’t it be done during PE? Why can’t a teacher read test questions aloud for all students to hear instead of making a student go to the special ed room for the aide to read the test? Or if silence is required, why can’t the student remain in class and listen to a recording of the questions through a set of headphones? Why can’t a fellow student open a carton of milk at lunch time instead of the aide hovering around and doing it?

As I said, this is no small task.

If we want a future where people with disabilities have equal opportunity, change needs to start in our schools.

Simple Question

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Kathie Snow speak.

She asked a simple question: on your deathbed, will you look back and think “I’m so glad I could walk” or “I’m so glad I had appropriate behaviors”?

I think the vast majority of us would not think about that, but would think about the people we loved, the places we had been, the things we had accomplished.

But yet this is the life to which we condemn people with disabilities – a life where “I’m so glad I had appropriate behaviors” is the extent of accomplishment. We push therapies, sheltered workshops, group homes – we demand they conform to a set standard of ability and behavior before allowing them into the world to attend school or work.

We need to ask this question: what would this person be doing if they did not have a disability?

We need to ask, and then we really need to listen to the answer. People with disabilities give us the answer all the time. They are telling us and showing us. That answer should be what drives our advocacy, and drives us to remodel the service system so that it allows people to create lives.

What can we do to listen better? What can we do to allow for authentic life experiences for those with disabilities? How do we stop doing for, and start helping others create lives?

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