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Inclusion in Education

by Chantel Bongiovanni.


Starting out school, most kids are bright-eyed, nervous, and excited. There can be an apprehension of whether school will go well. When it’s a student with disability, those apprehensions might be slightly different. There could be questions like, will they accept me? Will I get the support I need? It’s a jumble of itself of different needs, access requirements and social acceptance. It begs the question; how do we know when we’re included?

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Inclusion is sometimes pitched as a journey. It’s called that because, perhaps we aren’t going to arrive at ‘included’ without struggle. We unfortunately don’t live in a world where we can assume anything comes ready for disability.

When I started school, things didn’t just magically become accessible. I didn’t find acceptance easily. The move to inclusion was gradual and took time. It involved conversations and understanding from those around me. It’s something that’s still happening, even as an adult. Inclusion is a journey because the world around you won’t always have everything you need to be included.

To become included, there will be mishaps and some trial and error till the world around you finally starts working with you. Sometimes we have to ask and keep asking.

There is an assumption that inclusion and accessibility are the one and the same. But they are two aspects of the experience of disability that lead to each other. Inclusion and access work together, we can’t have one without the other. We can have access without inclusion, but we can’t have inclusion without access.

Access is about that physical space, having things aligned in a way that means when you are in that space that you can be physically in it. But just because you’re in that space, it doesn’t mean you’re included. Inclusion is something different entirely. To be included, combines access with meaningfully feeling like you belong.

When reflecting on the times I’ve felt the most included, it wasn’t just about me being in the classroom. It was when I had what I needed seamlessly, where I didn’t have to ask or beg for support. It was social too, I wanted to feel on equal terms with those around me and to be truly valued for what I bring to the table. I’ve never wanted my disability to disappear into the background. The best feeling of being included is when you can just be, whatever that looks like for you.
Entering classrooms where we need to practise inclusion might appear daunting. It might be scary to do something new or different. When you think about it though, isn’t that what education is meant to be about? Inclusion comes with an openness to listen and learn, and to value what another can offer. It never assumes that things will work seamlessly from the start, but we have to be open to working together. Inclusion is more than a word or a seat at the table, its being part of the group and truly belonging there.
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