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Including students with a disability in mainstream schools

Researchers believe schools can be far more exciting and inclusive places, if students with a disability are not excluded.

Professor Dan Goodley from The University of Sheffield and Dr Katherine Runswick Cole from The Manchester Metropolitan University will be presenting at the Disability Studies in Education conference 2014 (DSE14), to be held at VU. They say the inclusion of children with a disability in the classroom is not an imposition.

"The presence of disability in a classroom can provide opportunities and exciting possibilities. It shouldn't be rejected as a complication. In fact, it can have a very desirable impact on students," they said.

Public awareness of disability is gaining prominence. Last year, the International Day of People with a Disability celebrated its 21 anniversary and just recently the world commemorated International Asperger's Day. Yet, many indicators suggest that when it comes to improved circumstances and opportunities, there is still some way to go.

The 2011 World Report on Disability (published by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank) shows that 15% of the world's population live with an impairment, including nearly '200 million [who] experience considerable difficulties in functioning'.

Dan and Katherine believe that conferences like DSE14 are important because it gives us a chance to reflect on the past and plan for a better future.

"Disability has a long history of exclusion. In the future we have the chance to approach disability in different and creative ways. A change in attitude and behaviour can have a drastic impact on how people interpret the presence of disability in society, and in people's lives," they said.

Inclusion and performance

"At the moment, including children with a disability in schools seems to run contrary to the academic achievement ethos of modern school systems. Schools are often obsessed with an individual's performance and their ranking in school league tables. It is as if they believe the inclusion of students with a disability will somehow threaten certain standards."

"The biggest challenge is to convince educators, governments, policymakers, teachers, parents and children that education is more than simply individually achieving academically. To borrow form Paula Freire - education is an opportunity to become politically and culturally literate about one another in order to build communities that are inclusive, regardless of ability," they said.

Labels associated with disability

A recent article in The Guardian highlighted a whole new spectrum of labels associated with disability. They include:

  • Disruptive mood deregulation disorder (DMMD) - for those diagnosed with abnormally severe and frequent tantrums.
  • Binge eating disorder - for those who eat excessively 12 times in three months.
  • Hoarding disorder - defined as 'persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of actual value'.
  • Oppositional defiance disorder - described by one critic as a condition afflicting children who say 'no' to their parents more than a certain number of times.

"There's been a notable increase in the number of people and labels associated with disability and impairment. This does not necessarily represent an improved understanding of disability, just growth in the number of disability categories," they said.

Dan and Katherine are currently collaborating on several projects that will culminate into their keynote presentation at DSE14 in July. They include:

  • Studying disablism - challenging how people with physical, sensory and cognitive impairments are excluded from wider society.
  • Understanding Ableism - unearthing the ideology and practice that promote able-bodiedness.
  • Disability and ability - we live in a dis / ability world.
  • Understanding Big Society and disability - is David Cameron's Big Society a good or bad thing for people with a disability and their allies? 

For more information on the Disability Studies in Education conference and the keynote speakers, visit the DSE14 website.

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