At Community Resource Unit Ltd. (CRU) it is our mission to engage a broad range of people in a movement for change so that people with disability will be welcomed and appreciated as they take their place in their communities.
I knew I was going to enjoy the day as, first of all, I was going to meet Dr. Bob Jackson from Curtin University in Western Australia. That is us in the photo.
Now, you may or may not have heard of this wonderful man. To me, and many others in a similar position to myself, Dr. Bob Jackson has given us the knowledge and the determination to keep our children with disabilities, in mainstream school.
I heard about Dr. Bob Jackson three or four years ago, through friends who were already fans of his. I went along to a CRU workshop to hear about his research on inclusive practices in schools. At that time Jessica (my daughter who has Down syndrome) was in mainstream school. The first facts I learned were the laws stating, children are entitled to go to their local mainstream school. If you didn't know about them, as I didn't, here they are: UN Rights of the Disabled Person Article 24, the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act, and the 2005 Disability Education Standards. Because many mainstream schools have gatekeepers who prevent parents from enrolling their children with disabilities, if parents do not know their rights, it is easy to get discouraged and go to the nearest special school. The statistics state that the majority of children with disabilities go to a special school.
Special schools segregate children away from the rest of society. They reflect society's attitudes - put them away so we can't see them.
I didn't realise that my wants for Jessica were considered 'progressive', and I had been choosing an inclusive life for her which wasn't typical. My husband and I didn't think twice about enrolling our daughter in the local C&K Kindy where her siblings had attended. We took her to two different playgroups - one was for 'special needs' children which included therapies, and the other was a regular church playgroup. We put Jessica in regular swimming classes as a baby and she still swims with other ordinary children. We didn't know that these things were atypical and that we were paving the way for other children. Our belief was: 'We did it for our other two, we'll do it for Jessica.'
When deciding on formal education, we were hit with the decision of where to send Jessica - special school or mainstream. At that time we didn't know Dr Bob Jackson's research and the other research in the field. We just wanted what Jessica wanted. And she told us pretty quickly. She wanted to be in the mainstream school. She was adamant even at the age of four, that she wanted to be at the same school as her brother and sister, and some of the other children she had gone to kindy with.
Treading the inclusive path in mainstream schooling has not always been easy. We've had our fair share of roadblocks and hiccups - mainly within the classroom with teachers' perceptions and a lack of willingness to go on this journey with us. But because my husband and I, truly believe in our hearts that this is the best route for our daughter to take, we will continue on...one step at a time.
So why inclusion? I hear you ask. Below are seven reasons which are stated in simple terms. These benefits are taken from Dr. Bob Jackson's booklet, Planning & Making Choices - A Handbook for families:
1) Long term outcomes for the child - higher soical skills, higher likelihood of employment and independence, and more community inclusion later in life
2) It's the right thing to do - it's a moral issue
3) The teaching of values - to the other children
4) It's good for the child with an impairment - academic and social skills improve
5) It's good for the other children - they develop social skills and learn about diversity
6) It's good for teachers and schools - breaking tasks down and classroom management skills, lead to better practice in the classroom.
7) It's the law - as stated above
Include: Inclusion through skills development (Dr. Bob Jackson)