There are many barriers to inclusion. These drawbacks can be physical, social or psychological. Below some of these are itemized and discussed in relation to those conditions existing at the school.
The physical structure of schools can hinder inclusion. By this year 2013, all schools should be now equipped with ramps and elevators for convenient access. The sole problem at the school in question was the unreliability of the two elevators, which on rare occasions simultaneously became non-functioning. To counter this, attempts were made to assign students who used wheelchairs to one floor for all or most of their day. If a student had most or all classes on the third floor one day, the next day, most or all of that student’s classes may be on another floor.
One of the adjustments that wheelchair users could have benefited from is lower door handles and bars for easier opening of doors. This was not a major physical problem but it translated into social and psychological dependency when one needed to always ask for assistance. For example, some students always needed someone with them wherever they went, even to the bathroom. Although they were very capable of using their wheelchairs, they depended on help from someone else. If the teacher did not allow someone else to go with them, these students simply did not go. Other wheelchair users did not like asking for help. If they were not capable of opening a door on their own, they turned back rather than ask someone they did not know to do them a favor.
Society's views of persons with special education needs can impact negatively on what goes on in schools. School administrators and teachers, parents and family members all possess personal views on inclusion that affect decisions made on a daily basis. Some of these views are explained below.
The school. School administration, including teachers may view inclusion in a negative light. Fortunately the school principal at the time, a former special education teacher, and his four assistant principals, who previously worked with students with special education needs, were very much interested in implementing inclusion practices. However, there were teachers who opposed it for a number of reasons. One feared that the curriculum would have to be degraded while another anticipated an increase in behavior problems when students become lost. Some teachers complained that they were not professionally prepared for teaching students with special needs while some questioned class size. There were also those who believed that the students were not capable of comprehending the work in the general education classroom. Discussions with these teachers and comments made at faculty meetings revealed that some had the same fears as most parents.
The home. Many parents and siblings have their beliefs on what their children or siblings can and cannot do because of some disability. On learning of the intended inclusion of all students in general education classes, parents came to the school to speak to administrators and teachers. Some were concerned about their students’ ability to function in the mainstream and others were worried about their students being bullied by the other students. Some parents insisted that their students remain in self-contained classes but most of them agreed to at least try inclusion, after they heard the opinions of a few of the teachers they trusted. Some threatened to take the school district to court and one parent actually took the school to court. Generally, relatives believed that their student was “not smart enough” and therefore incapable of functioning at the general education level and resisted inclusion. These beliefs in the homes naturally spilled out into the neighborhoods and consequently into the larger community.
The community. Some communities may not be friendly towards students who are differently abled, whether physically or mentally. Some members of the community may be ignorant of the facts while others may be just indifferent and ignore persons with disabilities. When members of these households meet as a community, little or nothing positive may be done because low expectations provide little or no positive action. This concept however, is losing ground in the 21st century. This school had supportive members of the community who got involved in educating parents about the positive aspects of inclusion. It was no easy task to change these parents’ beliefs of many years that have been psychologically imprinted by their parents and communities.
There are negative psychological expectations associated with inclusion. A few students, for example, had serious problems when they were exposed to large classes. One student with autism reacted violently whenever he entered a classroom with more than ten people. Another became unresponsive when there were more than about 15 persons in the room. There were students who believed that they were unable to do the work; many of them never tried and they were eventually placed in just one small inclusion class. Psychologically, many students limit themselves because of their impressions of how others see them (Walsh, 1993). It is our duty as caring adults to ensure that the long held views towards persons with disabilities are ended by education and ensuring a proper inclusion process in schools and communities.
A suitable inclusion process would help secure an appropriate education. Part 5 of the series The Psychological and Social Effects of Special Education Inclusion examines ideas for successfully implementing inclusion.
Walsh, B. (1993). How disabling any handicap is depends on the attitudes and actions of others: A student’s perspective. In R. Slee (Ed), Is there a desk with my name on it? The politics of integration (pp. 243-247). London: The Falmer Press.