The title of this post might be a bit misleading- I believe inclusion must work and can work. However, I believe it is our implicit bias and the systems & structures in place that lead to our frustrations and challenges with this approach.
âOne such example of the systems in place to support inclusive education leading to frustration, that 'UGH' moment, happened to me today. So like every good teacher, I took the time to digest it and debrief it online (joking-ish). Today's example is a poignant one in highlighting how policies have led to some systems being established that are contra to supporting inclusive environments.
One of my students has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. She participates in the public school program with some adaptations due to limitation in her hand mobility. She requires the use of assistive technology (AT) to support her pencil/paper work and her reading.
In order to access AT with my Board, we have to put in a referral requesting support and wait for our specialist to come to the school. The wait can be 5 days to 5 months, it just depends on demand and availability. After putting in the referral in early September, I was able to secure a Board Ipad with a few apps on it within two weeks.
I want this student to be given access to the same opportunities as her classmates (equitable learning). With the use of a tablet or a computer, she can participate in reading instruction and assessment. By the end of September, it was evident that the installed apps were not increasing access to the curriculum. In fact, they were more of a barrier than anything!
However, without a particular program downloaded on her Ipad, she cannot participate in her class reading lessons. To have a simple app downloaded on her Ipad, I need to have the AT specialist come out to the school and plug in their apple username and password. A short email off to AT to request a download ought to do the trick, it is a two minute visit for them. EXCEPT the wait got in the way!
After securing permission to access the PM library and PM plus digitally, I was still waiting on my AT specialist. Now that we are halfway through November, I decided I would take matters into my own hands- I logged myself in with my own information! I downloaded the app- The kiddo has the opportunity to participate (one of the foundations of an inclusive environment).
Well, just my luck- AT arrived about 10 minutes after I did this. Not impressed with my smooth moves, the specialist logged me out and then downloaded the app. Subsequently, I have been banned from any changes on the Ipad through his reconfigurations. Obviously there is frustration on his behalf because of my actions and there is frustration on my behalf because of the waiting game. Who loses? The student.
An inclusive approach aims to reduce the barriers so all students can have equitable opportunities. By waiting 6 weeks to have someone come out to put in a password, the student fell behind (academically and in confidence). When I inquired about the silliness of this particular system in supporting students, the response given was 'This is how we do it'.
What I want to know is why do we do it this way. Why is it important that a small department removed from the schools controls what supports our students have access to in (in regards to AT)? This system does not work. In fact it works against the foundational principles of creating inclusive environments.
To continue to realize truly inclusive environments, we need to review the systems and the structures currently in place. Many have been in place for decades and have not changed. Keep in mind, inclusive education started as a way to include the most vulnerable students- so these systems and structures probably had some relevance. Now, inclusion is not about including excluded populations. It is about community and the awesome mix of individuals in it- inclusion is an approach.
In order to reduce some of the frustrations common to inclusive schools, we must reduce the barriers to success for both students and staff. One of the easiest ways to do this is by allowing teachers to manage the supports for their students. When decisions are made and controlled by a small department (removed from the immediate school), the message remains that students requiring support are not the full responsibility of the classroom teacher. However, when teachers can easily manage and access supports (within reason) then the mentality shifts from those students to ALL students. It is a small change, but an important one.