Most disability activists support the idea of inclusive education in principle, but I would question how sincere they are. If activists, often with a pro-welfare bias are calling for many adults with impairments to be deemed naturally unable to work, what is the message being given to young people about their prospects? Why provide people with a proper education if it is simply not intended to be used?
I believe that if we wish young people with impairments to be empowered to break through the stereotypical expectations placed upon them by society, including many activists, then inclusive education, even if it is properly implemented, is not enough. We should rather be talking about providing young people with impairments an inclusive childhood.
By this, I mean that formal education is only a part of their development any child needs to be a fully rounded adult. Other parts of a healthy and positive childhood include after school activities, participation in immediate and extended family activities, having friends of the same age, the appropriate uptake of responsibilities within a family setting, opportunities to travel with family and others, and much more.
The point is that a child with impairments should have the same opportunities as a child without impairments. It is also, more importantly, enabling them to develop into adults with genuine autonomy who have not fallen into the conveyor belt of passivity and victimhood.
The later seems still to be so true, especially for people with significant impairments and/or learning difficulties. Two decades ago I was too often the only person with a significant impairment at meetings and conferences, especially one so outspoken. I knew I was ahead of my time, but I assumed I was the start of a new generation.
But in 2016, I am not seeing many people following my footsteps whether as activists or people who are proactive in their field of work. It appears the case that the opportunities to be more included in society as made their life feel safe and enabled them to be passive. These possibilities are also still controlled by non-impaired professionals unwilling to let go of the social and economic power they have over people with impairments.
A key outcome of any inclusive childhood will be the opportunity to experience emotional upset from the meaningful interaction with their non-impaired peers, as well as the chance to be naughty. These are the activities that will generate creativity and passion, combating blind obedience to social norms.
Inclusion is on the agenda although it needs to share the platform with welfare, which has taken centre stage since 2010. I am however concerned that because the deep-rooted prejudices towards the inclusion of people with impairments in society as people able to make a meaningful contribution, which is made acceptable in the name of dignity and compassion, real inclusion is unlikely to be achieved without a significant shift in thinking.
While many adults with impairments may be permanently stuck in a medical model desire to stay as passive victims, which has been fetishised by the often ignorant media, we can offer children with impairments the chance to break free from these chains.