04 SES 10 B, Views of Pupils and Teachers of Inclusive Education
Although the mainstreaming of children with various disabilities has become the norm, nowhere in the literature of disability is the dialogue of ‘special’ so prevalent as in education (Adams, 2003). Thomas and Loxley (2001, p. 89) assert that “The social categorization of children and young adults as somehow being ‘special’ is constructed in and legitimized through the kind of policies which ‘speak’ about them”. Finkelstein and Stuart (1996, p. 172) note that “the common in the lives of disabled people is perceived as special in the lives of non-disabled people…and reflects the absence of disabled people’s real impact on the way society is structured”. In Ireland many vision impaired/blind young people in both mainstream and special education settings receive classroom supports from Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) whose primary function is generally seen as being there to provide a care role rather than a learning support role (Department of Education and Science, 2007; Douglas et al., 2011). Generally it is the latter that blind/vision impaired young people require most. This discrepancy between what an SNA is perceived to be employed to do and what the blind/vision impaired young person actually requires of an SNA can prove problematic. Rutherford, (2012, p. 760) argues that SNAs are often perceived “as the ‘solution to inclusion’, the resource upon which students’ entry to the (compulsory) education system depends”. Research has shown that additional surveillance and control can be experienced by those who have SNA provision (Mortier et al., 2011; Rutherford, 2012). Furthermore, it is acknowledged that the presence of an additional adult in the classroom can result in segregation and isolation from peers (ibid). Therefore, it is imperative to assess the benefits of having an SNA against the social implication of such supports (Rutherford, 2012). Mortier et al., (2011) acknowledge that young people should have the opportunity to evolve from being merely recipients of supports to becoming actively engaged in the development of their own supports. However, it was noted that “even though the children had clear ideas about their own preferences regarding supports, none of them had been able, or been encouraged, to express any choice in whom or how and for what they received support” (Mortier et al., 2011, p. 215). Blind/vision impaired people are not a homogeneous group and therefore it is essential that the diversity of their needs are recognised. Findings in this research indicated that there is often a disparity between what blind/vision impaired people required of SNAs and what they were perceived to be employed to do. It was evident that the presence of an SNA impacted on social interaction and a consequence of this was that friendships with peers diminished. This was particularly apparent during post-primary education, at a time when young people are trying to gain independence from, and over-reliance on adults. Therefore while an SNA can enable inclusion in some contexts they can also contribute to social exclusion. The purpose of supports should be to enhance rather than diminish the individuals’ independence and to enable rather than disable inclusion. Consequently, there is a need to establish policies and practices around provision of supports, including SNA provision that are proactive rather than reactive in nature. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance to promote the active involvement of blind/vision impaired young people at all levels of the process as they are the experts in their own lives.
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