ILMI call for Young Disabled People’s Voices to be heard in discussion about education and COVID-19

Inclusive education is about learning, not about “care” and the absence of young disabled voices in this discussion is of huge concern to ILMI.

Today (Thursday 21, January) ILMI call on all media, Government departments and teacher unions to directly reach out to young disabled people in discussions about their education support needs during the current COVID-19 lockdown.

“There has been a very worrying trend over the last two weeks where media have debated school closures and the impact on disabled children and young disabled adults, yet there has been a total absence of voices from disabled children and young adults in this discussion” said Des Kenny, ILMI chairperson.

“The assumption that all disabled children and young disabled adults are keen to return to school simply isn’t true, yet that is the message that is being hammered home every day. Disabled children and young disabled adults are not a homogenous group. Any discussion on school supports for disabled children and young disabled adults must include disabled people’s voices” added Mr. Kenny.

“The role of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) is to support disabled children and young disabled adults to participate as equals in an inclusive mainstream education system, and to participate and achieve the same outcomes as non-disabled children. How is it inclusive if only disabled children are being brought back into classrooms? Can we seriously say that it is unsafe for non-disabled children to return to school but that it is safe for disabled children to do so? We also need to recognise that inclusive education needs both SNAs and teachers working together to support disabled children and young disabled adults learning needs” said Mr. Kenny. 

“If we are serious about the inclusion of disabled people, we need to think about the language we use. We need to recognise the impact of language to reinforce outdated models that look at disabled people through a medical model which leave us as human beings as an afterthought in discussions about our own lives. On that basis ILMI calls for the removal of references to “special education” or “special education needs”. This term is very much based on a paternalistic medical / charity view of disabled people and is not based on the social model or principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The needs of disabled people, whether in education or otherwise, are not special. ILMI calls for the adoption of the term “inclusive education”, which is what we need to be constantly striving for”, said Des Kenny, ILMI chairperson.

“We understand the challenges that all parents face trying to balance education, family and work roles” added Mr. Kenny. “We understand that some disabled children and young disabled people have complex support needs. However, we need to be honest, and separate discussions about inclusive education from the provision of in-home supports that give young disabled people choice and control over their lives, separate from their families. We have heard many voices of parents who are exasperated but focusing on these voices reinforces narratives not of inclusive education, but of “pity” and “charity”. The media need to stop and think about the impact these constant narratives about the “burden of care” have on all disabled people. We need to think about ensuring that disabled children and young disabled adults are the ones who talk about what they want, and not repeat the failings of the past by ensuring that discussions about disability are led by non-disabled people” said Mr. Kenny.