04 SES 01 A, The Wandering Wingless: Reconnecting Migration And Inclusion
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), persons with disabilities currently comprise around 15% of the world’s population. This percentage is presumably higher among those displaced by war or persecution. In the last few years, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 2006) has been widely adopted by most humanitarian institutions as a framework for interventions targeting forced migrants with disabilities (Duell-Piening, 2018; ExCom, 2007). However, scientific research on this topic remains limited, partly as a consequence of the polarisation engendered by the heated political debate following the 'refugee crisis’ in 2015 (Mirza, 2014; Pearce, 2015). This knowledge gap is especially evident in relation to the access to education of forced migrants with disabilities (Miller, Nguyen, 2014).
A recent document from the UNHCR (2019) sheds light on the key principles guiding access to education, emphasising the importance of adopting a rights-based approach to foster inclusion, participation and non-discrimination as strategic tenets when developing interventions in this area. The document stresses that the lack of data related to the identification and record of persons with disabilities among forced migrants prevents host authorities and agencies from drawing up and implementing effective educational policies. The systematic recognition and registration of forced migrants with disabilities is commonly acknowledged as a preliminary step in ensuring them protection and assistance, as well as in meeting their educational needs (Crock, Smith-Khan, 2016). To this end, data collection methodologies have been developed as tools for gathering the necessary information to design inclusive programmes for persons with disability. The WHO, the UNHCR and other organisations especially encourage authorities and agencies to use a set of questions developed by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics (WGDS) as a tool for screening and classifying disabilities (Asai, 2018; UNHCR, 2019). Accordingly, assessment instruments that include the WGDS questions – such as the Needs Assessment Tool, developed within the framework of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMID Project, 2018) - have been designed to structure the reception and integration of forced migrants with disabilities in several international contexts. These screening procedures are intended to both raise awareness of the often-overlooked global phenomenon of forced migrants with disabilities and systematise the way data on this topic are collected by agencies and host authorities. However, the literature on inclusive education emphasises that the use of classifications inspired by diagnostic models can have unintended negative effects on the opportunities for learners with disabilities to learn and participate in mainstream education (Allan, Harwood, 2016; Florian, 2015). Classification cannot be considered a neutral activity as it generates standards that function as working infrastructures, through which the organisation of data frames the professional approach and practice of policymakers and practitioners (Bowker, Star, 1999; Kowzleski, 2016).
Building on this conceptual framework, the paper critical examines the role the Washington Group questionnaires (WGQ) can play in the development of opportunities for inclusive education among forced migrants with disabilities. This topic is particularly relevant in relation to the policies that the European Union is implementing towards those migrants. Reports and documents issued in connection with the development of the WGQ are studied through infrastructural inversion (Bowker et al., 1999) and intertextual thematic analysis (Coffey, 2013). The findings critically review the use of the WGQ as a tool for assessing the disability conditions of forced migrants and their possibilities for inclusion in education.
To provide an evaluation of the role the WGQ can play in fostering opportunities for inclusive education among forced migrants with disabilities, the author carried out an in-depth examination of the reports and documents developed in connection with the use of WGQ through infrastructural inversion (Bowker & Star, 1999) and intertextual thematic analysis (Coffey, 2013). As an analytical method inspired by the Goffman’s idea of ‘going backstage’ (1959), infrastructural inversion helps reveal how the seemingly objective elements of scientific and technological constructs intended to categorise reality (such as the WGQ) rely on a combination of multiple relations between humans, objects and activities, which generate and strengthen infrastructures as functional systems. Accordingly, infrastructural inversion produces a deeper understanding of the interdependence of technical networks and standards embedded in classification systems, as well as the political work and knowledge production surrounding the creation of these systems (Bowker & Star, 1999). Meanwhile, intertextual analysis refers to the adoption of an analytical approach that looks beyond texts as individual artefacts by exploring the relations between texts. Organisational settings like services to identify and register asylum-seekers are based on systems of accountability via documentation in which documents are connected to other documents. Consequently, “we can think of a semi-autonomous domain of documentary reality, in which documents reflect and refer to other documents. […] Texts can therefore be analysed in terms of these intertextual relationships, tracing the dimensions of similarity, comparison, contrast and difference” (Coffey, 2013: 374). Infrastructural inversion and intertextual thematic analysis complement each other as, respectively, conceptual and empirical strategies that help elaborate categories and identify emerging themes through an iterative and recursive process of theoretical sampling and systematic comparison of data (Cohen et al., 2018). The credibility and dependability of research findings were ensured by integrating debriefing by peers and sampling triangulation, whereby different samples and subsamples of the analysis were cross-examined by other researchers in order to check their level of consistency (Flick, 2011).
The research highlights some shortcomings of the WG questionnaires. They offer a concise taxonomy of personal impairments that reduces the complexity of the disability experience to a few dimensions, mostly centred on body functions. All documents examined contain introductory statements that underline how social and environmental factors play a key role in constructing disability as a relation between individuals and contexts. Nevertheless, the process of developing questions that can be operationalised in a way that guarantees the possibility of international comparison has resulted in a screening exercise permeated by a concept of disability as a characteristic of individuals. This contrasts with relevant literature in the field of inclusive education, which emphasises that classifying individuals through systems inspired by diagnostic models has unintended negative effects on the opportunities for learners with disabilities to participate in mainstream education (Biesta, 2010; Florian, 2015). This kind of classification leads to certain students being considered problematic based not only on their impairments, but also ethnic origin, class background or gender status. Excluding social and environmental factors from the questionnaires, as relevant but unmeasurable indicators, results in a purportedly precise but detached data collection, which categorises individuals without listening to what they have to say regarding what kind of impact disability has on their lives. In conclusion, reducing disabilities to impairments intrinsically tied to the individual emphasises the idea that migrants with disabilities need to adjust to the situation with the help of certain aids, while diverting attention from a serious analysis of the ways the educational environment can be made more inclusive.
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