In the class conversation on Thursday, we mentioned some of the ways in which disability and disability rights are taught in school. While disability is no doubt a small part or not part at all of many school curriculums, students around the country are still receiving an education on disability in the following ways.
1. Segregation of students with disabilities. Although we have come a long way in integrating students with disabilities into “regular” education classrooms, I think it would be difficult to deny that segregation still exists. In recognizing that segregation exists, Congress has even included certain clauses, such as “least restrictive environment,” in laws in an attempt to require schools not to segregate students with disabilities who do not need to be segregated. However, while our society has come a long way in reducing segregation, segregation still exists in schools. The school begins its segregation when picking children up for school. As we discussed in class, children with disabilities, especially those with physical disabilities, are often segregated from other children and forced to take the “short bus” or, where I come from, the “van” to school while children without disabilities are picked up by the average sized school bus. A child with a disability in riding on the only accessible transportation is either isolated completely by himself or herself in the van on the way to school or has only one or two other students with disabilities who are also forced to ride this accessible transportation provided by the school district. As a result, children without disabilities who ride the regular sized bus do not encounter the segregated individuals with disabilities in one of the most social aspects of the school experience, the ride to school. Students with disabilities are once again segregated once they arrive at school, often being diverted from “normal” education classrooms and put into resource rooms, where only students with disabilities are educated. Students with disabilities in these classrooms often receive their entire education in these rooms, being excluded from “specials” such as physical education or art either because the school does not have the adaptive equipment to allow individuals with disabilities to participate in these programs or because the school decided that individuals with disabilities would benefit more from spending time on other subjects. Often times, students with disabilities do not even leave the resource rooms to have lunch. Therefore, throughout the school day, individuals with disabilities are segregated from students without disabilities.
2. Burden on the individual. Another aspect that we discussed in class is how school districts view their legal obligation to provide an accessible education as an option rather than an obligation, often leaving the burden on the individual student with a disability. For example, school districts tend to recognize that a particular technology would be useful for an individual with a disability and allow the individual to better learn the educational material, but the school district will refuse to provide the technology, allowing the technology only to be used if it is provided by the student or his/her parents.
3. Struggle between the individual and the collective. Schools seem to adopt an individual perspective when it is convenient and a collective perspective when it is convenient for the school. When it is convenient for the school to focus on the person with the disability as an individual, for example when it would come to making structural changes, the school sees the person as an individual who would need an accommodation by providing only a temporary accommodation for that one student instead of a permanent structural change. When school districts think it is more convenient to view a person with a disability as a part of a collective group of people, for example when it comes to providing particular technology that an individual may need, the school responds in the collective, often comparing the needs of one student with a disability to the needs of another student with a disability and assuming the needs must be the same.
While these examples may not be ways in which disability is explicitly incorporated into a school’s curriculum, they are providing children with disabilities and children without disabilities an education on disability. The message being sent is that individuals with disabilities don’t matter, individuals with disabilities “aren’t like us,” individuals with disabilities don’t deserve the same education as children without disabilities, individuals with disabilities are not capable, and individuals with disabilities can have their rights ignored. Schools must recognize that they provide an education for children in every action the school takes and must act accordingly.