04 SES 04 A, Including Students with Hearing and Visual Impairments: New educational strategies
Until comparatively recently the education of students with disabilities in Ireland as in many other European countries occurred primarily within the special education system. This form of provision led to unfounded assumptions about the learning capabilities of this section of the population and implied that because of their impairment they inevitably had more apparent learning needs than their peers (Griffin & Shevlin, 2007). Segregationist and institutional education policies were the norm in Ireland up until the 1990s and special education was perceived as being the sole responsibility of dedicated professionals who catered for the needs of children and young people with disabilities (Griffin & Shevlin, 2007). Ireland has witnessed considerable changes in how we think about and acknowledge disability as a public issue. Since the 1990s European and international policy including the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation, 1994) has influenced the Irish education system. Consequently, the numbers of young people with disabilities in mainstream education at all levels of education are growing and “have become the responsibility of everyone in the education system” (Griffin & Shevlin, 2007, p. 3). There is no universally agreed upon definition of inclusion which reflects the complexity and contention that underpins the concept. However, formal ideas of citizenship and participation (Bruce, Harrow, & Obolenskaya 2007); matters of human rights and social justice (Barton, 2003); resources to support learning and participation (Ainscow et al., 2006) and challenging the ideas of integration which related to “the movement of disabled students from segregated educational settings to the regular classroom” (Slee, 1996, p. 111) are some of the pertinent issues that are central to the literature on inclusive education. Inclusion cannot simply be about location as “What happens in those classrooms is equally critical to achieving genuine inclusive education” (Ferguson, 2008, p. 113). An inclusive school is one that meets the diverse needs of all students “regardless of the nature or source of that diversity” (Kinsella & Senior, 2008, p. 654) and that in “the case of pupils with additional needs, this involves making appropriate accommodations to ensure that such pupils can access, and participate in, the school experience in its broadest context” (ibid). While blind/vision impaired young people have been included in mainstream schools in the Republic of Ireland for some time now it has been noted that they are not making the transition to third level education at the “pace which might have been expected from a mainstream educational process” (AHEAD, 2008, p.20). This low level of entry to third level education is not about their ability but rather reflects a lack of learning opportunities and supports (AHEAD, 2008). The research upon which this presentation is based identifies that inclusivity is not always a guiding ethos within educational institutions but is something affixed to a “disablist curriculum” (Hopkins, 2011) as a response to an excluded student.
It is recognised that there has been a dearth of participation amongst disabled people in all aspects of research (Ali, Fazil, Bywaters, Wallace & Singh, 2001, Educable, 2000) and until comparatively recently most of the research undertaken in the field of disability was undertaken either by those within the medical profession or by those caring for disabled people. This resulted in research that did not generally accurately reflect the authentic experiences of those with a disability. The research upon which this presentation is based used a qualitative approach, namely life history which provides a means through which to explore “the impact of public policies on private lives in the context of change over time” (Shah & Priestley, 2011, p. 93). This approach acknowledges that participants are the experts regarding their own lives. A life history approach was utilised to ensure that the voices of participants “were captured by the research process in ways that reflect their views and recognize them as active social agents who are able to make decisions about their own futures” (Shah, 2006, p. 207). Furthermore, Clarke (1998, p. 67) asserts that this approach offers “those who have been silenced...the platform...to speak in their own words about their experiences”. In-depth, unstructured and semi-structured interviews were conducted with blind/vision impaired individuals and were all located within the Republic of Ireland. My ontological position as a disabled researcher was central to the development of this research. This presentation will detail some of the inclusionary/exclusionary practices that participants experienced during their time in mainstream education.
Since the 1990s European and international policy has increasingly influenced the Irish education system (UNESCO, 1994). In terms of recent policy and legislation, Ireland has manifestly adopted an inclusive position and the rights of disabled children and adults are increasingly recognised in legislation. This presentation will demonstrate that while the language of inclusive education has become the norm within policy initiatives, its implementation within the school setting is not always consistent. This presentation will show the importance of emphasise that equality of access should not stop once the student with a disability has gained entry to the mainstream setting; these students also require equality of condition and equality of outcome to achieve equal opportunities and experiences. This presentation will provide insights into the wide range of educational experiences evident for those who participated in this research. This presentation can be used to provide an understanding of how existing policy, practice and provision impacts on the educational experiences of vision impaired people and to inform future developments. While it is not always possible to legislate for all the issues that arose from this research it is imperative to recognise the importance of involving disabled people and in this instance particularly blind/vision impaired people at all stages of the research process to ensure that future policy and practice is informed by the lived experiences and that they are central to the research process rather than being confined to the margins or excluded from the process.
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