The revolution will NOT have disabled access.

Okay, hold your fire. Hear me out.

I am not disputing that the DDA (1995; 2005) and Equality Act (2010) have brought us a long way in terms of improved access for people with disabilities. Lifts and ramps, dropped kerbs, spacious toilet cubicles, autism friendly screenings and all sorts of other things have made a lot of people’s lives a hell of a lot easier. Great. But is it an ideological revolution? Or, is it just papering over the cracks in a broken society and infrastructure? If we consider schools to be a microcosm of society (which I don’t, for the record) we could say that these ‘reasonable adjustments’ are the societal level equivalent of education’s integration/internal segregation paradigm. Can true equality really be achieved as an afterthought? A side entrance? A picture of a wheelchair painted on the floor?

Maybe now would be a good time to demonstrate that I do realise how far we’ve progressed with this. The historical deficit (or, medical) model of understanding disability focused on what a person had wrong with them, could it be fixed and, if not, where could they be stored. A people/broken people dichotomy. Since the 1970’s, though, we have increasingly understood disability according to a social ideology. Not ‘disabled people’ but people who are dis-abled by certain situations. The deficits, in this model, lie within society and not individual people. The legislation for ensuring that these deficits are rectified to facilitate access for people with disabilities has resulted in a giant leap forward towards a society that is fit for purpose for its entire people. Welcome to the evolution. But is it enough?

When it comes to implementation of the social ideology, I have observed a number of approaches:

1. The Seemingly Oblivious, aka ‘the opt out’
Didn’t get the memo… or didn’t feel that the reasonable adjustments were necessary (or that the necessary adjustments were reasonable?)

I was once at a theme park with a group of children and teens with more complex individual needs. We politely enquired as to the whereabouts of the disabled access for their super big rollercoaster; it had a lot of steps up to it. We were informed that disabled riders could access the ride via the exit but, alas, this was also a flight of stairs. We enquired again and were authoritatively informed that ‘wheelchair people didn’t want to ride the rollercoaster’. Damn those mysterious ‘wheelchair people’!!! ​

2. The Law Abiding Citizen, aka ‘the facepalm’
Just blindly meeting their statutory duties.

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3. The Well Intentioned, aka ‘the cringe’
Their heart’s in the right place… I think?

I like to frequent a certain large, northern arena for the purpose of enjoying live music. And said establishment is rather tall and, very sensibly, has a lift. You can only imagine my dismay when I rounded the corner and saw the words ‘disabled lift’ emblazoned across the front of it. Why would they disable the lift?! Now not everyone will be able to get to the… oh, hang on. I see. It isn’t the lift that’s disabled. I suppose this is more practical but, really, no less ambiguous. Is this a lift for all people with disabilities? Do people with cognitive and learning disabilities have to go in the lift? I’m being pedantic, but joking aside, is being old a disability? What about having small children with you? Just to be clear, I’m not objecting to the lift… or ramps, accessible toilets, alternative format leaflets… I’m objecting to our habit of writing the word ‘disabled’ on things or, more commonly, putting a picture silhouette of a person in a wheelchair on it. Consider this:
• Not all people with a disability use a wheelchair.
• Not all people with a disability require those facilities.
• Not all people who would benefit from those facilities are perceived to be disabled. They may just be being dis-abled by that specific situation. For example, the elderly; someone who has broken their leg; someone pushing a pram.
• Not all people who do have a disability and do require that facility need for it to be labelled. I can’t imagine that removing the picture of the wheelchair would result in thousands of step/ramp combos at the entrance of shops being blocked by multiple people in wheelchairs confused as to which option is for them.​

4. The Over Achiever, aka ‘the segregator’
Don’t you just hate it when you’re so good at something that you become terrible at it?

I like to frequent a certain medium sized, northern venue for the purpose of enjoying live music and was recently there with a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair. Having given up on trying to explain to the door staff that I was not ‘the carer’, we were escorted in a lift to the disabled viewing platform, high on a balcony and – for reasons unknown – behind a Perspex screen. We even had our own show-sec security guy. It was quite the party atmosphere.

5. No sarcastic name for this one, I’d just like to talk about Nell Bank; a children’s outdoor activity centre in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Before I begin, it is crucial that you know in advance that I was facilitating (aka, pushing) a child who uses a wheelchair throughout this story…

We arrived, bright and early, and made our way up to the centre. We did some pond dipping and a nature trail. We had lunch and used the toilets. We had a water fight and we played on an adventure playground. And it was then, atop a big climbing frame fort thingy, that I realised… no side entrances, wheelchair ramps or wheelchair friendly routes. No ‘access’ or special provision at all, really. A facility fit for purpose for children. All children. And yes, we were at the top of a climbing frame.

Is this model achievable society-wide? A society and infrastructure fit for purpose for all of its inhabitants? Let’s consider how it would apply to the ubiquitous disabled parking space; an archetypal example of the ‘over achiever’. Instead of the current format – a separate section of car park, highly labelled, limited to just a small number of people with disabilities (blue badge holders) and unavailable to a whole range of other people who have a disability or are otherwise dis-abled by the vast, hazardous supermarket car park – how about we just show a bit of consideration and common sense? No labelled parking spaces, park as close to the door as you need to. Don’t park at the dropped kerb if you can go up the step. Don’t judge people parked by the door because they don’t fit into your personal conception of what ‘needing to park by the door’ looks like; you don’t know what they’re dealing with. This would rely on a society that lives by the common values of trust and fairness, and this is why this post is here on a blog that is supposed to be about educational inclusivity; the revolution will start in schools. Not because they’re a microcosm of society – like I said, I don’t think they are – but because this is where the ingredients of tomorrow’s society are mixed. If we can create a truly inclusive education system, a truly egalitarian society should follow. If we can create schools that are fit for purpose for all students (and staff, and visitors!), what will society look like tomorrow? The systems and structures should be for everyone. Anyone can have an individual need at some time or another, either short or long term, and those needs should be met as an intrinsic part of those structures and systems; not an afterthought, add-on, annexe, token gesture or, as can so often be the case, not at all. A society fit for purpose for all of its people.

So, I will say it again; the revolution will not have disabled access.
It won’t need it.

¡viva la revolución!

A good SENCo works their way out of a job.

As a starting point for a manifesto this statement is pretty fraught with flaws, but it epitomises my objectives more succinctly than any other sentence I have been able to come up with. So here it is, my inaugural promulgation and statement of intent; I believe that, in order to have done my job properly, I would have had to render myself completely dispensable. Surplus to requirements. Redundant. And herein lies the first fault line running through my self-assigned mission statement; I don’t really want to lose my job. I love my job! This is a catch-22 situation and a hurdle I will have to leap when that bittersweet moment arises. The hardships of being a SENCo, eh? And there – the term SENCo – is the second crack running through what i assure you is going to be a rock solid platform for my career in education. I don’t refer to myself as a SENCo, or use the acronym ‘SEN’ at all, if I can avoid it. My job title is INCo, or Individual Needs Coordinator, but the sentiment remains the same; my personal ethos on educational inclusion means that I kind of find my own dream job unacceptable. This won’t be the first time I’ve been described as ‘contrary’. Typical Gemini. Although I assure you that I do not ascribe to the concept of astrology in the slightest. So, what is my problem with my own job? Well, I believe that a truly inclusive school doesn’t need a SENCo… or INCo… and it is true inclusivity that I aim to achieve. The definition of inclusion, in the educational sense, is not straightforward in itself. Measures taken in the late 1970’s to ensure the educational rights of all children, including those who had previously been deemed ‘ineducable’ (see TIMELINE), seems to have resulted in an ever intensifying crusade to educate all children in mainstream schools; an under-one-roof-at-all-costs approach. But is it really inclusion if some students are educated, sometimes almost entirely, in discrete intervention or nurture groups? Is it really inclusion if a student only ever accesses lessons when their involvement is facilitated by an intense relationship with a teaching assistant or equivalent? Is it really inclusion if a student never really feels like they belong to that school community? If they sit outside of its systems? If they are viewed as ‘other’ and possibly socially excluded or even bullied? To be honest, whether or not withdrawal intervention and the use of teaching assistants constitutes true inclusivity or not is the least of my issues with those two educational paradigms. But that’s another rant for another blog post. The image below (and which also proudly adorns my office wall) represents my understanding of true inclusion more concisely than I can put into words, so here it is:

https://twitter.com/TeacherToolkit
https://twitter.com/TeacherToolkit

When I use this image to explain my ethos on educational inclusion to others I like to accompany it with the following clarifying and qualifying statements; some small print, if you will. Firstly, if you have achieved ‘true inclusion’ simply by not having a wide range of abilities and needs within your establishment, what you have actually achieved is exclusion. Secondly, it only counts as true inclusion if every dot in the inclusion circle is experiencing the same quality of education as all the other dots in the circle. Do all students have access to as much of what they need as they need to be successful learners? Do they all have equal access to the highest quality resources? experiences? members of staff??? If not, what you have actually achieved is some form of internal segregation or integration. Thirdly, I would be distraught if my convictions regarding true inclusion were perceived as being anti-special school. I am staunchly pro-special school (although I find the use of the word ‘special’ to be, at best, rather patronising, possibly actually pejorative) and believe that they play a vital role in ensuring that all children achieve equal quality of learning experience. If, despite a culture of true inclusivity, a student would receive greater quality of educational experience in, for example, a more sensory environment, then that is where they should be. It is the stigma attached to attending special school that needs to be eradicated, not the special schools themselves. True inclusion is the enterprise of ensuring all children receive the most appropriate education, not the enterprise of putting all of the children into the same building.

So, what have I actually achieved in this post? If nothing else it has been wonderfully cathartic, but hopefully I have also made  few clear statements of intent:

  • I agree that the majority of children should be educated in mainstream schools but feel that we currently perpetuate a system of internal segregation for many children with additional educational needs.
  • Special schools play an important role in ensuring educational inclusion at the societal level. They probably need renaming though.
  • My vision of true inclusion sadly does not require a specially appointed coordinator. This may be a ship that I have to go down with.
  • I am conscious that this post may have raised more questions than it has answered. Please be in touch! I love talking about this stuff. Also, I intend to tie up all of those loose ends in future blog posts.

Finally, it is probably clear that my manifesto is actually an amalgamation of ideas that I have begged, borrowed and stolen from all sorts of organisations, authors and philosophers. I intend to keep a bibliography of sources and influences, along with a historical timeline of educational inclusion, in the tabs along the top of this page. Just as soon as I get around to it. Chill your beans. INCo14.