Our third article on integrating children with disabilities into an inclusive classroom looks at the importance of sensitising teachers and learners
Last articles focussed on the importance of parents and or learners disclosing their disabilities to the school, with some practical tips on information sharing between the learners, parents, teachers and the principal. In this article, we discuss how sensitising the school, including learners and teachers, towards disability before a learner with a physical disability arrives at the school is crucial in full integration and inclusion.
Some learners with disabilities experience challenges, such as being teased and bullied by other learners in their classes and schools; having teachers either over- or under-accommodate their needs; teachers and learners making assumptions about their capabilities; and exposure to incorrect and sometimes derogatory words and phrases.
Yet many of the above examples can be addressed and prevented if teachers, learners, school management teams and parental bodies receive disability sensitisation training. It is important that this training is conducted by a person who is qualified, experienced and able to adapt the content to meet the needs of all the stakeholders.
For example, the words, content and way someone teaches a class of Grade 3 learners will differ from those used with school management teams. Ideally, the sensitisation training should be run by someone with a disability themselves. This training might include:
• Positive examples showing the capabilities of people with disabilities using pictures, video clips or personal stories if available;
• Emphasising the fact that disability is deeply personal and individual. No two people with disabilities are the same. Each has their own strengths and challenges;
• Highlighting the importance of using correct terminology, as well as the impact of using out-dated or derogatory words and phrases;
• Giving accurate information in a sensitive way instead of using “scare tactics”;
• Talking about some of the challenges that some people with disabilities may have and what can be done to make the experience more welcoming and inclusive;
• Providing an overview of disability followed by more specific information relating to the learners’ disability;
• Only sharing information that the learners and their parents are happy to share, and that is important for participants to understand; and
• Encouraging all participants to ask questions.
It is important that the information, content and examples are age- and level-appropriate. Teachers, for example, may need additional information on how to accommodate the learner practically and how to deal with the reactions and comments from other learners in the class in a sensitive and appropriate manner.
Many disability organisations and non-governmental agencies provide disability sensitisation training, and schools should be encouraged to partner with them to gain information, training and support. It is most important that the learner with a disability and their parents are fully involved and in agreement with the process because the training will have a direct impact on how the learner is accommodated and included in the school.
The next article in this series will provide teachers and learners with some practical tips on what they can do to help and include a new learner with a disability in their school and classroom.
Dr Emma McKinney is a “children with disabilities” specialist, a post doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University and owns a company called Disability Included. email: email@example.com