Concerns About Inclusion by Jim Sinclair | Circa 1998

Concerns about inclusion from within the disability community

Compiled by Jim Sinclair, 1998


I do not know of any advocate from within the disability community who believes that inclusion should not be an available option.  Disability advocates believe that disabled people should be able to go anywhere and do anything in mainstream society.  Among disabled people, even the strongest critics of inclusion would probably object to school districts and other community institutions being permitted to exclude or segregate people who wish to be included.  Inclusion MUST be an available option for those who choose it.

However, there are concerns within the disability community that inclusion is not always the best option for every person with every disability, and that involuntary inclusion is as problematic as involuntary segregation.  Some frequent concerns about inclusion include:

1) The emphasis on being with nondisabled people carries the implication that other disabled people–people like ourselves–are less desirable to be with.  This devaluation of disabled people is stated explicitly in arguments about the importance of modeling typical behavior (i.e., behavior of nondisabled people) instead of being around other disabled people from whom we might “catch” more behaviors that are characteristic of disabled people and are therefore automatically considered undesirable.  Even when not stated explicitly, stressing the importance of contact with certain peers just because those peers are not disabled conveys the unmistakable message that disabled people are undesirable as peers.

2) Proponents of inclusion often stress the idea that disabled people in inclusive settings should learn to look and act more normal.  This may be something that does happen, but a common experience of many people with a variety of different disabilities is that a goal of looking and acting “as normal as possible” is often achieved at the expense of being able to function as well as possible with one’s disability.  Adapting, accommodating, and coping with a disability often requires learning to do things differently from the ways nondisabled people do them.

3) Donna Williams has said that “normal is being in the company of others like oneself.”  When disabled people spend all their time in inclusive settings, then especially those who have uncommon disabilities (such as autism) have few or no opportunities to be in the company of others like themselves.  This is likely to increase rather than prevent feelings of isolation and alienation.

4) Just being around nondisabled peers does not automatically mean that relationships of mutual understanding will occur.  For example, in an inclusive classroom containing a deaf student, it is very unlikely that many of the hearing students–or even many of the staff–will have conversational fluency in sign.  Thus, opportunities for naturalistic communication are very limited.  Requiring an adult interpreter to facilitate peer communications is not conducive to full social inclusion.

5) Being in a peer group where one always finds things more difficult than anyone else, always needs more help than anyone else, and always has to work harder than anyone else but still makes slower progress is not conducive to the development of a positive self-image.

6) Inclusive settings are designed by, and primarily intended for, people who do not have special needs.  It is not always considered possible to accommodate the needs of every person with every type of disability in such an environment, especially if the people setting up the environment do not share a personal understanding of what the special needs are and why they are important.  As a result, quality of education is often sacrificed to the ideal of inclusion.Examples:

a. Blind students in inclusive programs often receive less instruction in orientation and mobility than blind students in special programs for the blind, and may not be taught braille at all.

b. Deaf students may be expected to use speech and lipreading for all communication, even though this results in severely limited comprehension.c. Deaf students are likely to have fewer opportunities to learn and use sign in inclusive programs than in special schools for the deaf, which can lead to long-term deficiencies in communication skills.

d. Even if a deaf student is fluent in sign and an interpreter is present, in an inclusive classroom the student is likely to miss a lot of classroom content because it is not possible to simultaneously watch the interpreter, look at visual aids presented by the teacher, and participate in instructional activities.

e. For people whose disabilities involve significant sensory issues, as autism does, inclusive environments are often nightmares of continual sensory bombardment which interferes with learning and causes constant discomfort or pain.

f. I personally have spent my entire academic career, from preschool through graduate school, in classrooms whose lighting makes it impossible for me to read.  If I had not had the kind of aptitudes and the kind of parents that enabled me to learn to read at home, I would never have learned to read at all.

 7) Teachers and leaders in inclusive programs are most likely to be nondisabled.  Special programs are more likely to have staff who share the same disability as the students or consumers.  This is important not only for reasons of staff understanding of the students’ or consumers’ needs, but because it provides positive role models of successful disabled adults acting in leadership roles.  I have personally heard of three different children–two deaf and one autistic–living in three different countries, who all independently arrived at the conclusion that people with their disability must die before reaching adulthood.  Because they had never seen any adults like themselves, they expected that they themselves would die before they grew up.

Copyright (c) 1998  Jim Sinclair


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Source: Concerns About Inclusion

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