By Jeremy Einbinder for CAN DO WORK
There is a tendency in “mainstream” educational systems to marginalize people with learning differences, to make them feel so separate as to be not worthy of instruction. Broadly speaking, such as in the case of the autistic “spectrum,” what is generally considered to be “low functioning” is used to deny agency and allows the established institutions to cast people aside whom they view to not be worth the effort. Whereas people who do struggle, but have the outward appearance and presentation of functioning “normally” or at a “high” level may be denied support.
In an article for The Nation, David M. Perry talks about the ways in which his child, who has Down Syndrome is regularly denigrated along these lines. Going through the process of getting his son support, Perry explains,
“The first social worker came over to assess our son, and we cheerfully talked about how great he was, then later were told we qualified for very little. Yet every other parent and teacher kept talking about ‘waivers’ that we should qualify for—but a waiver from what? What service or requirement was getting waived? We struggled through form after form, lost in the bureaucratic hurdles that stood between us and help.”
It is evident from this anecdote alone that the process should be streamlined, that students should simply have whatever supports they need. Means-testing in this fashion is a destructive practice, wasting the time of both parents and students, denying the kids the support they may need through such endless bureaucracy, when learning could in actuality be much more flexible as a standard.
“Eventually we found out that a social worker had used "mild" for my son's developmental disability on his first assessment, so we had to argue with the state that, in fact, his disabilities were not mild.”
This is especially demeaning. Children with disabilities are in a world which constantly makes them feel like they are not enough, which makes them feel like they can’t be seen as fully human, and that is to a large extent because of the supports that they do not receive. Essentially, Kelly is pleading with the state to recognize that his son does in fact need support, and the only way to do that is to assure them that his son’s case is not “mild” and therefore that it is worthy of actual consideration.
This should not be so difficult. The disability rights movement has been around for generations and the struggle continues.
A USA today article explains,
“Special education made giant leaps on the coattails of the civil rights movement. After more than a decade of congressional study, The Education of All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975, signed by President Gerald Ford in November of that year. In 1997, the law was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”
The mandate for Disability rights has been around for generations, and for all the progress it has made, it has remained stagnant. Inclusion and diversity are vital. Nobody learns the exact same way, and accommodations should not be means-tested. In this sense, individualizing approaches to education becomes crucial. According to a philosophy known as “Universal Design for Learning,” which Temple University detailed in a study, the approach is “An inclusive learning environment that is universally designed takes into account all relevant dimensions of difference that an instructor expects to encounter” among the students. In order to realize this, students with learning differences need the necessary attention not to just survive education, but the thrive within it.