The second article in our series on integrating children with disabilities into inclusive classrooms in mainstream schools focuses on the importance of a meeting between learner, parents and teacher.
We know teachers aren’t always trained or experienced in accommodating learners with disabilities in their classrooms. In addition, all children with disabilities are unique. Accommodations for one child would differ from those for another, even if they have the same “type” of disability.
Among the considerations are the child’s age, whether they were born with a disability, family and socioeconomic factors. Once the child is enrolled and the parents have met with the principal (see ROLLING INSPIRATION Issue 1, 2019), it is important that the parents meet with the teacher and ideally the head of department.
If the school is fortunate enough to have therapists or a school-based inclusion team, they should be included in the meeting. Parents need to be encouraged to share their children’s strengths, challenges, and the accommodation required.
Depending on the child’s age, it is often beneficial to have them play an active part in this meeting. After all, the decisions made will directly impact on their lives. If they are younger, it’s a good idea to have an initial meeting with only the parents and the school representatives present, and a second meeting that includes the child.
Parents are advised to plan how they’d like to structure the meeting. Giving a quick medical history of the child might be useful. Parents need to use terms that teachers will understand and ensure that the information is relevant.
Mentioning solutions to challenges that the child, family or previous school, for example, used would really help. After all, the child (and their parents, to some extent) knows their body best, and teachers shouldn’t judge or make assumptions about the child’s capabilities.
While the school will require some medical documentation, the meeting is not focused on digging up a vast medical history, but rather on giving an overview of the accommodations the child might need. It’s important to visit the school prior to the meeting and consider the accommodations required. This way, when they meet with the teachers, they’re prepared and have recommendations ready that are relevant to the school. Consider these examples:
• “We’ve noticed that there are three steps at the entrance of the school. My child is a wheelchair user and requires a wheelchair ramp to be built.”
• “I use a rollator to get to my desk, and I noticed that there isn’t much room to move when entering the classroom. Please may I enter the classroom first so that I can get to my desk more easily? Also, please can I be allocated a ‘buddy’ to help move my chair so that I can sit and then move my rollator to a safe place out of the way.”
• “We noticed that, when learners get awards during school assembly, they are required to climb the stairs to accept the award. I have cerebral palsy, which effects my balance and coordination. I’d feel more comfortable if my class and I could receive our awards from the floor at the foot of the stage.”
• “We see that the Grade 5 learners’ classrooms are on the first floor. I’m unable to climb the stairs. If there aren’t funds available to build a lift or design an appropriate ramp, would it be possible for the teacher to move to a classroom on the ground floor?”
In the next article in this series, we’ll look at the importance of sensitising teachers and learners about disability before the arrival of a learner with a disability.
Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included. email: firstname.lastname@example.org