In an increasingly economic-propelled view of individuals by policy-makers and political leaders, there had been a tremendous change as well as pressure on every member of the society to magnify and exploit the capacity of every person.
These include the imperative policy to make non-productive individuals with incapacity to become productive members of the economic cycle and to involve the family, community, and education sector to facilitate this.
Many US enactments as stated below:
“The fundamental principles of nondiscrimination and accommodation in academic programs were set forth in Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title II; and their implementing regulations at 34 C.F.R. Part 104 and 28 C.F.R. Part 35 respectively,” (UCBC, 1990)
is directed to guide the government agencies and families in the equal opportunity every individual, specifically the disabled have within the society.
This paper shall try to discuss students with disabilities and equal opportunities, the right to be included in programming, practice and supported within the mainstream classroom.
Students are considered disabled due to real, persistent and substantial individual differences and educational needs that regular education failed to provide. Differences vary widely from medical conditions such as dyslexia to pervasive and chronic maladaptive patterns of behavior. It is suggested, however, that many of these students may no longer be considered disabled after they leave school (Terman et al, 1996).
Jones (1996) discussed three prevailing theoretical frameworks for understanding disability: functional limitations (medical model), minority group paradigm, and the socially constructive (social model) adding that this is to view disability as inclusive acknowledging the power of environmental structure, structural and cultural definitions of disabilities. It was suggested that the latter model redresses the balance of responsibility, further asserting that social policy must dismantle pervasive physical and psychological barriers. Acceptance of disabled people as part of human diversity merges them to society itself.
Terman et al (1996) enumerated the common characteristics of disabled students through:
- Instructional characteristics that require greater than normal consistency and intensity of instruction, greater individualization of academic content and pacing, and more emphasis on behavior management.
- Demographic characteristics of being more likely to be poor and of non-Caucasian ethnicity, or from minorities that are usually marginalized, with family earning of less than $25,000.
The Academy for Educational Development and the Office of Special Education Programs (1997) however, set below the following as occurrences for learning disability:
- “Spoken language: Delays, disorders, or discrepancies in listening and speaking
- Written language: Difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling
- Arithmetic: Difficulty in performing arithmetic functions or in comprehending basic concepts
- Reasoning: Difficulty in organizing and integrating thoughts
- Organization skills: Difficulty in organizing all facets of learning.”
The Learning Environment
Students with disabilities at any or the whole stage of learning have been described by Tomlinson (FEFC, 1996) as experiencing the three layers of “…excluded altogether from education, included but isolated within it, or increasingly regarded as part of the whole work of the education service,” (p 3). These are all very likely precedents for disability and learning.
Inclusive education for children with various forms of learning difficulties and disabilities had been favored in recent years so that learners who were traditionally in special schools were ceded to learn with regular students in any school. In a study conducted by Bishop and Jones (1996), they revealed that for many students, opportunities for personal reflection supported by guided participation in practice led to intention to aspire for active participation. Empowerment of children with learning difficulties requires positive attitudes towards these children and their inclusion in activities at a very early age.
Recent laws and enactments provided children access to mainstream school so that refusal on grounds of impairment has been practically outlawed. Croll and Moses (2002) however have reinforced segregation of a selected through protection and enhancement of specialist provisions for those who need it.
Through the Individual Education Program (IEP), it was suggested that the following strategies have been effective with some students who have learning disabilities:
- “Capitalize on the student’s strengths
- Provide high structure and clear expectations
- Use short sentences and a simple vocabulary
- Provide opportunities for success in a supportive atmosphere to help build self-esteem
- Allow flexibility in classroom procedures (e.g., allowing the use of tape recorders for note-taking and test-taking when students have trouble with written language)
- Make use of self-correcting materials, which provide immediate feedback without embarrassment
- Use computers for drill and practice and teaching word processing
- Provide positive reinforcement of appropriate social skills at school and home
- Recognize that students with learning disabilities can greatly benefit from the gift of time to grow and mature,” (AED and OSEP, 1997).
Schools and Policies
May legislations today within the US and outside of it provide that students with disabilities be given an equal chance at mainstream education with the integral support of parents or the family in the identification, assessment, and validation process, as well as teachers, educators, and the social and health services to provide adequate and professional services that accompany these legislations. Aside from federal and state budgetary support, the entire education and the social and health services systems were encouraged and enforced to provide their equal share in the previously family-only burden of caring and educating for these children.
A study conducted by Simon and Bayliss (2007) however, provided another view that delineates another level of students with disabilities — students with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) in special schools. It is not necessarily so that students with PMLD are sufficiently provided for their learning and that mainstream education still is a welcome option. However, emphasis must be given to the efficiency of staff and school to handle such cases so that knowledge of children with disabilities must be thorough and not generalized, and attitudes must be improved in their placement. Their study proposed that despite the best intentions of the staff, the quality of education children with disabilities received was inadequate resulting from lack of understanding about PMLD that is the result of lack of training opportunities and resources.
In connection with this, Bishop and Jones (2003) earlier noted how British teachers were prepared through the initial teacher training (ITT) of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA). Special requirements include knowledge of children’s social, physical, intellectual and emotional development as well as special needs. This aimed to provide quality intervention for students with disabilities at early years.
In UK higher education, it was suggested that disabled students were underrepresented due in part to lack of coverage in the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). Likewise, it was proposed that disability statements made by individual institutions are basically for information than expression of mission or commitment (O’Connor and Robinson, 1999).
O’Connor and Robinson (1999) found and suggested that while there was a lack of disability awareness in the university studied, the disabled students did not feel unnecessarily categorized as disabled and that peer reaction was generally supportive, helpful and understanding. Likewise, the disabled students played down their disability adding autonomy and empowerment as well as an apparent desire to have an identity beyond their disability.
There was a finding however for shortcomings of national policy, institutional policy and subsequent practice. Implementations were enforced as rudimentary practice while legislation are still ambiguous and open to wide interpretation (O’Connor and Robinson, 1999). This mirrors Hurst’s (1993: 355-356) observation that “If there is no change in the ideology of the institution, its staff and its curriculum then the problems will remain.”
In addressing these issues, Terman et al (1996) suggested that schools must continue vigilance in recognizing the needs of students and that the IDEA’s (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) guarantee of individually determined and appropriate education must be maintained. In addition, funding structures at the state level must support schools in making decisions about placement and services based on student’s individual needs. There is also the emphasis on the maintenance of parental resource centers, increased resources in regular education, changes in instruction supported by intense teacher trainings, and local commitment to improved student outcomes.
There is a much laudable effort on the part of policy-makers, legislators as well as the education, social and health services sectors to bridge the gap between normal and disabled students. As suggested, these efforts led to significant reduction to institutionalization of families of disabled individuals.
These efforts are constantly being reviewed and evaluated in order to provide necessary adaptations, improvements, as well as actions that lead to a much ideal incorporation of the disabled individuals to the productive sector of the social and economic world.
It is necessary, however, to include the input, decision and suggestions of the disabled in order to properly provide them the necessary adjustments needed in their improving treatment and education. However, it is to be noted that to treat them in an equally productive and normal level empowers them for autonomy and a perception that they really do have worth and that they can live like normal beings do, and probably, better.
It is therefore necessary that people in all sector; from parents, family members, the community, health, social services and the education sectors become aware of the impact of a more personal equal respect and attitude, as well as support for the disabled in a manner that make them feel adequate and far from different to their normal peers. This way, they strive for more independence as well as excellence in whatever pursuits they engage into.
Academy for Educational Development and the Office of Special Education Programs (1997). “General Information about Learning Disabilities.” Fact Sheet Number 7 (FS7).
University of California Berkeley Campus (1990). “BERKELEY CAMPUS PLAN FOR ACCOMMODATING THE ACADEMIC NEEDS OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES.” Web.
Bishop, Alison and Phyllis Jones (2003). “’I never thought they would enjoy the fun of science just like ordinary children do’ – Exploring science experiences with early teacher training students and children with severe and profound learning difficulties.” British Journal of Special Education 30, 1, pp 34-44.
FEFC (1996). Inclusive Learning – principles and recommendations. London; Further Education Funding Council.
Hurst, A. (1993). Steps Towards Graduation. Hants Avebury.
Jones, S. (1996). ‘Towards Inclusive Theory: Disability as Social Construction.” NASPA Journal 33 (4) 347-354.
O’Connor, Una and Alan Robinson (1999). “Accession or Exclusion? University and the Disabled Student: A Case Study of Policy and Practice.
Simon, Ben and Phil Bayliss (2007). “The role of special schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties: is segregation always best?” British Journal of Special Education 34 (1) Page 19-24.
Terman, Donna L., Mary B. Larner, Carol S. Stevenson, and Richard E. Behrman (1996). “Special Education for Students with Disabilities: Analysis and Recommendations.” The future of Children Special Education for Students with Disabilities 6 (1), 4-25.