Richard Rieser
Disability Equality


Increasingly, Inclusion and Inclusive Education are becoming buzzwords to which everyone subscribes. However, behind the language lies a struggle for human rights, which is by no means won nor complete.

Powerful policy statements have been adopted by the international community following pressure from human rights activists and the Disabled People's Movement.

The Salamanca Statement, adopted by UNESCO in July 1994, was adopted by governments and 20 non-government organisations.

  • Every child has a fundamental right to education and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain acceptable levels of learning.
  • Every child has unique characteristics, interest, abilities and learning needs.
  • Education systems should be designed and educational programmes implemented to take into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs.
  • Those with special educational needs must have access to mainstream schools, which should accommodate them with a child-centred pedagogy capable of meeting those needs.
  • Mainstream schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all. Moreover, they provide an effective education for the majority of children (without special needs) and improving the effeciency and ultimately the cost effectiveness of the entire education system.
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the UN Standard Rules on Equalisation (1993) both unequivocally support the right to equal treatment for all and view this as a right to mainstream education. In the UK, the Labour Government has adopted the Salamanca Statement and in Excellence for All and the Programme of Action have supported the development of inclusion, though confusion remain about what it means. "Promoting inclusion within mainstream schools, where parents want it and appropriate support can be provided will remain the cornerstone of our strategy. There are strong educational as well as social and moral grounds for education children with SEN, or with disabilities, with their peers. This is an important part of building an inclusive society."

    In 2001 the Government have brought forward the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, which extends the Disability Discrimination Act to education. In addition, Clause 316 of 1996 Act has been amended, so the expectation is that disabled children will be educated in mainstream schools if parents want it and it does not interfere with the efficient education of other children.

    Trade unions and voluntary sector in the IK are now committed to all children having the opportunity to go to an inclusive mainstream school or nursery. UNISON, GMB, NUT, AEP, TUC, The Council for Disabled Children and the Special Education Consortium, representing the voluntary sector, have all agreed such policies. Yet there remains considerable confusion and resistance to the development of inclusion from medical professionals, many of who work in the education system, not least those who work in segregated special schools and parents.

    What Is Inclusion?

    "All children / students are educated in an age-appropriate mainstream classroom in neighbourhood schools and the supports provided, so that children / students, teachers and classroom can be successful." - New Hampshire Institute of Disability

    Inclusion is a process.

    Integration is a matter of location.

    Integration is not inclusion.

    "The participation of all pupils in the curriculum and the social life of the school." - Action Programme

    "The intentional building of relationships where difference is welcomed and all benefit".

    Research on human development on twins has established that after genetic potential, peer relationships are the most important force in shaping who we are. This is far more important than parental influence. But what happens when parents internalise oppressive attitudes from professionals to their child?

    Where Do Oppressive Attitudes Come From?

  • Different cultures have responded in various ways to disabled people. There are many strange beliefs about difference. Impairment has often been seen as a punishment from God, even Glen Hoddle. In the west, our ideas are dominated by Greek and Roman ideas of the body beautiful and physical perfection.
  • Judaic / Christian ideas of charity have also shaped our treatment to giving asylum and alms, but at times of social change, disabled people have been made scapegoats as in the Great Witch Hunts or during plagues. Mostly in feudal and early modern Europe, disable people would have been accepted as part of the family or work gorup. The 19th century saw greater segregation of disabled people.
  • The workforce had to be more physically uniform to perform routine factory operations. Disabled people were rejected. Disabled people were viewed as worthy poor as opposed to 'work shy' unworthy poor and given Poor Law Relief. Disabled people became dependent more and more on the medical profession for cures, treatments and benefits. Eugenicists believed disabled people would weaken the gene pool of the nation and weaken competitiveness.
  • Increasingly, disabled people were shut away in single sex institutions for life or sterilised. Separate special schools and later nurseries were set up that denied non-disabled people the day-to-day experience of living and growing up with disabled people adn vice-versa.
  • The last 25 years have seen the growth of the Disablity Movement arguing for an end to segregation and a strong push for human rights from parents. Disabled people make a distinction between impairment and disablement.

    "Impairment is the loss or limitation of physical, mental or sensory function on a long-term and permanent basis."

    "Disablement is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers." - Disabled People's International, 1981.

    The dominant view is the Medical Model. Here disabled people are seen as a problem to be cured or 'fixed' by therapy, medicine, surgery and special treatments. It becomes a personal tragedy when this can't happen. Powerful and pervasive views are reinforced in the media, books, films, art and language. Institutions are organised to segregate and exclude. The environment, in general, prsents many barriers, as we are not expected to be anywhere but in specialist environments.

    The Social Model of disablement focuses on the barriers in the environment. People are disabled by their environment - the attitudes of others and the policies, practices and procedures of organisations. Not much can be done to change impairments. A great deal can be done to get rid of barriers and create a more equal society in all aspects of life. This is the struggle for disabled people's rights.

    Parents and professionals should be allies to young disabled people.

  • Empowering disabled children to have a strong sense of self as disabled people.
  • Struggling to stop segregative practice.
  • Building strong peer relationships with disabled and non-disabled peers.
  • Getting rid of barriers in the environment. Do an access audit.
  • Challenging negative attitudes and low expectations.
  • Challenging sterotypes and developing postive images of young disabled people.
  • Develop teaching and learning strategies where all pupils maximise their potential.
  • Developing professional preactice that develops the above.
  • Struggling in your locality to get a choice of inclusive provision.
  • Build parent support gorups to empower parents to become allies in their children's struggles for human rights.
  • Link with the disabled people's movemnet in your area and use their knowledge and expertise to develop inclusion.
  • Have training for Inclusion delivered by DEE trainers to school staff, governors, LEA staff and parents.
  • Set up parents support groups at your school.
  • © Disability Equality in Education