How inclusive is your school?

By Nicholas Carlisle


I returned last week from Honolulu where I had been asked to lead a workshop on bullying and disability. This is an enormous issue across the US for two reasons. First, the number of students with disability is significant and is growing: one in six children born today has some form of developmental challenge. Second, these students are three times more likely than other students to be bullied.

Humanity has seemingly struggled with integrating those with different abilities since the beginning of time. Many pre-industrial societies left disabled infants on the mountainside to be taken by the wild animals. Those who survived would often be given derogatory names and relegated to serving secondary functions within the community.

As a society, we continue to make strides embracing diversity around race, gender, and sexual orientation. When it comes to our attitudes to disability, “retard[ed]” and “mental” remain some of the most common putdowns in our schools. And we adults continue, often unconsciously, to segregate e.g. with our special rooms at the back of the campus for SED (severely emotional disturbed) students.

In Honolulu we took an honest look at how inclusive our schools are of diverse abilities using the the pyramid at the top of this page. Then we explored making changes in how we language disability and whether to use neurodiversity as a new conceptualization to move beyond the old medical model view of disability as something that is broken and needing to be repaired.  I’d love to know what you think.