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Blind To The Benefits of an Inclusive Education

July 7, 2008

I am writing this post with some sadness, in reply to Ian Hamilton’s article, in which he says that he suspects that he is  out of line with other disabled people in his view that integrated education doesn’t work well for the majority of blind children.

Hamilton does make some good points in his article, and that’s one of them! Let me reply to some of his points with my views and experiences.

Personally, I believe that the drive to integrate blind children into mainstream schools has more to do with political dogma than providing visually impaired pupils with a rounded education.

He may have a point here.  Blind children, after all, can be educated in Braille. As Braille becomes more recognised, they will, no doubt, be able to recieve a rounded education in specialist schools as well. But I honestly doubt that their wish to be in mainstream education has anything to do with politics.

For me, my friends and our parents, the wish to be in mainstream education was about wanting to be around able-bodied children, while learning what they learnt and doing, as much as possible, what they did. Special schools, for us, didn’t teach very much. As one teenager once said: If I was in a special school, there would be no simultaneous equations or whole-day Art exams. Instead, in Maths I would be counting to 100, and in Art I would be finger painting.

I hear shouts of: But it’s different for blind children! That is true. But only because, personally, I think they may be asking for too much from mainstream education. As Hamilton says:

For example, the first time I was able to play football with other blind people was an incredible experience. On that occasion, there was a bell in the ball to help us play the game. Now I felt part of the team rather than hanging about the edges hoping that the ball would just suddenly find me. As a blind person in a sighted school, I would never have got into the school football team.

Personally, I never wanted to be on my mainstream school’s football team. There must, however, have been ways for Hamilton to play football with a team of blind children without being in a specialist school!

Let me respond to some other things. Hamilton says that the part of his education that benefitted him the most was his time at the Royal National College for the Blind, because meeting and finding out about the world with other visually impaired people was vital for me to understand my own value. It helped me to learn about how blind people operate.

I’m not going to argue with this point at all. I’ve always said that every disabled person needs other people with the same disability in their life, because that is an unbreakable connection. I just feel sad to read that Hamilton felt that the only place that he could meet other blind people was in a specialist school. I guess this was where I was lucky. I’ve always had people with my disability in my life. They are my closest friends, but I didn’t meet them all at special school.

However, after making this good point, Hamilton says: Blind children need to be taught that they have a rightful place in the visual world.

Very true, but how are they ever  going to be taught that if they are not included into the visual world from childhood, through a mainstream education? If I had not gone to  mainstream schools, I would never have believed that I had a place in able-bodied society.

Being the only blind person in the classroom with the talking computer and the classroom assistant only highlights the fact that you are different from everyone else.

 So does being the only person in the classroom allowed to type with a classroom assistant. So does being the only person in the playground with a walking frame or wheelchair. So does having a classroom assistant drawing for you during Art. Of course that’s true. But for me, these things were well worth the embarrassment that they caused. Because making me feel different was not all that they did. They also taught two mainstream schools full of able-bodied children and teachers about life with a disability. If even one of them sees a disabled person today and doesn’t discriminate against them because they think of me, then it was all worth it.

Politicians tell us that mainstream education is what the disabled community wants. 

That’s because it’s true. Mainstream education for disabled children is not about being able to participate in PE, art or cookery. It’s about being around everyone else, while remembering your own limits, finding your own talents and being able to take them as far as your own intelligence allows you to. I have always believed that anyone with enough intelligence to handle the academic work at a mainstream school should be allowed to study at one. I, for one, couldn’t care less if they need to do their work in Braille, Sign Language or Facilitated Communication.  This will only teach everyone involved  valuable life lessons.

This post is part of the Inclusion Rules! debate at Same Difference.

 

 

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