Disability in Society
Students with disability have to confront many different barriers throughout the years they spend at school. Focusing on the issues relevent to one impairment group: 1) Clearly illustrate the effect that these barriers may have on the quality of education that they receive, and 2) Suggest steps and measures that can be taken for these disabling barriers in education to be minimized. Impairment can be defined as when one is unable to perform certain things due to being physically or mentally unfit.
The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health: Children and Youth Version (ICF-CY) regards disability as neither purely biological nor social but instead the interaction between health conditions and environmental and personal factors. Disability can occur at three levels: • an impairment in body function or structure, such as a cataract which prevents the passage of light and sensing of form, shape, and size of visual stimuli; • a limitation in activity, such as the inability to read or move around; • a restriction in participation, such as exclusion from school.
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The Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) states that “persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” In the past, students with any type of impairment have been marginalised from society. Parents did not send them to school and they spent most of their days at home hiding from society.
This was especially visible in those students who suffered from a physical impairment. Being physically impaired was considered to be a stigma. Nowadays the situation has improved. Students with a physical impairment are joining local schools and are no longer being hidden at home. The mentality within society that physically impaired people are some sort of other species has started to change, and in my opinion great progress has been done. However, having said this, there are still many barriers which physically impaired students have to encounter during the days they spend at school. Throughout the years, models of disability have been developed. Models of disability help us to understand how people with impairments experience their disability. The two most influential models of disability are the medical model and the social model. The medical model states that disabled persons need to adapt themselves in order to fit into society and society need not make any changes to accomodate the disbaled persons. Disabled persons are seen as the problem in society and they must adapt.
On the other hand, the social model (which has been developed by disabled persons) argues that society is responsible for the cause of disability due to the way it is organised and to the barriers which exist which discriminates against people with impairments and excludes them from involvement and participation. Therefore the social model states that society needs to cater for the needs of the disabled and eliminate the barriers which are present. Barriers for physically impaired people exist everywhere: at the work place, roads, shops, schools etc.
I shall be focusing on barriers present at schools. Barriers which exist for physically impaired students within schools include: bullying, certain areas of the school which are not easily accessible, toilets which are not specifically designed for them, non inclusive education, other students do not integrate with him etc. All these barriers will obviously have an effect on the quality of education that a student with a physical impairment, such as Spina Bifida, will receive. In the case of bullying, it is quite obvious that the disabled student will not be enjoying his time at school.
This will be making life at school hell for the student in a wheelchair. The student will thus not regard the school as a place where he can meet with his friends, socialize and learn. Therefore for this particular student, education will be inexistent within the school. Because education is not only based on academic achievement, bullying will not only reduce the quality of education received, it will eliminate education for the concerned student in my opinion. “Gathered in the school playground which seemed harmless in a simple sense echoed back to me in memory with most painful force.
Words like ‘cripple’, ‘spas’, ‘mental’, ‘stupid’, ‘clumsy’, ‘blind as a bat’, and ‘deaf as a post’. ” Sandy Slack in Corker and French (1999) Another barrier which has an effect on the quality of education that a child, with Spina Bifida confined in a wheelchair, will recieve is that certain parts of the school may be inaccesible or difficult to access for the child in the wheelchair. This can be quite of a problem especially if the school does not have a lift and a special WC. This can make simple things, like going into class, very difficult for a student in a wheelchair.
They can make the student feel uncomfortable asking for assistance especially in the case of the WC. These situations might make the student see the school as an environment which is not suited for him, as a place where his needs are not catered for and also a place which presents situations that make him feel uncomfortable and perhaps shy. This will have an impact on the education he is receiving. Another barrier present in Maltese schools is the fact that most disabled students feel that they are alienated from their peers. They have very few friends and are unpopular.
Most of the time other students label them by refering to them as less fortunate, crippled, brave etc. This puts them at a greater distance from their peers and has a great impact on their self-esteem. In an interview with parents of disabled students viewed on youtube the parents commented that their children were very sad when they were not invited for birthday parties and other events. Most of the times their children did not feel a sense of belonging in the schools and they started to dislike school and did not want to attend anymore.
Their grades were also getting lower. In one particular case, the disabled child described friendship as the lack of malice rather than the sense of belonging and other traits which friendship is associated with. Therefore it can be seen that loneliness at school is a barrier which is reducing the quality of education being given. A lesson which does not include all the students is also a barrier for the disabled child’s education. Some lessons are not planned well to cater for the needs of a child who is physically impaired.
The Physical Education lesson is one of the most evident cases where a child in a wheelchair is left on the side or simply stays tossing a ball on his own. A P. E lesson in which the physically impaired child is not included well within the lesson will make him feel greatly inferior to the other students and regard himself as a burden on other students when the teacher just puts him in a team to play with the others. In Paul Hunt’s seminal edited collection Stigma:The Experience of Disability (1966), Margaret Hill recollects her childhood memories of sport at school:
“The ‘I wants’ of childhood become ‘I want to be normal’; ‘I want to run in races, play football, netball, tennis, like the others’. The reply from his classmates is invariably the hard truth: ‘We don’t want you; you are too slow; we shall never win if you are with us’; and when it is time to ‘pick teams’ the disabled child is always left until last” It is not only the P. E lesson which needs to be inclusive but all the other lessons which might involve some form of movement such as experiments in science and group work. All these barriers in education can be minimized if not also removed.
In the case of bullying, schools can make an extra effort on the disabled children by keeping an extra eye on them to spot any bullying which is happening especially during break time. When this is spotted the teacher should stop it immediately, and tell the bullies that his life is already difficult as it is and try to make them emphatize with the disabled child. Communication with the parents is also important as the child might be experiencing bullying at school and only informing his parents about the issue. Helping the bullies understand his situation might make the accept him more and maybe become his friends.
In the case of not being accepted and not having friends, the school might set up some social clubs during break time in which everyone is free to attend. The teachers can also spend some time during break speaking to the the disabled child if he is alone and can also invite other students to join in the conversation. This goes hand in hand with inclusion. If the child is included within the lessons this will help him to socialize and communicate with his peers. Inclusion is the key to breaking many barriers present in our schools. The inclusion policy can now be seen present in many of Malta’s school policies.
This has been enforced by the Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act which was published in 2000. Maltese schools are nowadays giving equal opportunities to every student. Teachers must continue to be given training on how to put the inclusion policy into practice. I remember my secondary school P. E teacher who had organised a wheelchair race for us in order to include a particular student with Spina Bifida who was in a wheelchair. The student was extremely excited to show us how to use a wheelchair and surely felt included. This is a perfect example of how to put the inclusion policiy into practice and it’s benefits.
In the case of the school not having the appropriate facilities to cater for physically disabled students the school can ask the government for some funds. The school might organise some fundraising events in order to collect enough money to be able to build the appropriate facilities. By doing this small effort we can all help in order to improve the quality of education being given to physically disabled students within Malta’s schools. This can only be done by working collectively together to bring down these barriers which are hindering the students from having truly a positive experience at school.