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Whose World Is It Anyway?

July 11, 2008



I read an interesting article in my favourite magazine, Pick Me Up, recently. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. That’s hardly the most serious publication around, is it? But, for once, it really got me thinking.


Amanda Stainer, 35, had a stroke in late 2004. As a result, she lost the ability to speak, read and write. Her mother suggested that she attend adult education classes in order to relearn reading and writing.


So far, so ‘normal.’ But the adult education classes being suggested took place at the Royal National College for the Blind… and Stainer can see!


It was her reaction to her mother’s suggestion that made me think. If everyone else was blind, would I be the odd one out?


Now, we’ve all heard of Mainstreaming, also known as Inclusion. I would define this as the process of allowing, and accepting, a child or person with a recognised DisAbility into a mainstream school or another area of mainstream society. It’s difficult and challenging for everyone involved, but it’s recognised, and many have proved that it’s possible.


So, you see, DisAbled people in areas of mainstream society have been feeling like the ‘odd one out’ for a very long time. What Stainer’s story got me thinking about was, what happens when the process of Mainstreaming is reversed?


What happens when you send a sighted person into a place filled with blind people, a hearing person into a place filled with Deaf people, or an able-bodied person into a place filled with wheelchair users? I am going to call this the process of Specialisation.


I would guess that attempting to Specialise a ‘normal’ person would lead to exactly the same thing that happens when you attempt to Mainstream a person who is DisAbled. Unless the ‘normal’ person is in a position of authority, such as teacher, boss or Learning Support Assistant, they have no reason to be in a place that is ‘meant’ for people with DisAbilities. So they don’t fit in.


DisAbled people have been arguing for many years that we have very good reasons, and every right, to be included into all areas of mainstream society. I am the first to say that we do. The thing is, do the mainstream want to be Specialised as much as we want to be Mainstreamed? Not usually. Why? Well, because they have been brought up believing that they are superior to us, just because a higher percentage of people in the world are lucky enough to be able to see, hear, walk or communicate verbally. We, however, have been brought up believing that, even though there are more of them, we are different, but equal. So we fight for inclusion into what ‘they’ call ‘the normal world.’


Stainer was very nervous before her experience of Specialisation. In the end, she fell in love with a fellow student at the Royal National College for the Blind, a man who has Retinitis Pigmentosa.


I’ve always thought that equality for the DisAbled population will be achieved when we are all allowed to join the mainstream. Reading Stainer’s story, however, has made me realise that, in places that majorities reserve for minorities, minorities become majorities and, therefore, they become ‘the norm.’ Now, I’m left wondering whether the real way for DisAbled people to achieve true equality with the mainstream is not for them to allow us into ‘their’ world, but for us to allow them into ‘our’ world. If they want to come, that is.


I think that it might be time that we started encouraging Specialisation as well as Inclusion. We have, after all, been trying, some more successfully than others, to fit in with ‘them’ for too long. However, if we are so ‘different, but equal,’ why can’t we offer them a place in ‘our’ world for a change? Who knows? We might just lead them to love!


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


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