These practical tips will help teachers integrate children with disabilities into the classroom – and the school as a whole – to create an inclusive learning environment
When we think of integrating a learner with a physical disability, most of us think about providing wheelchair ramps and ensuring there are accessible toilets. While these aspects are important, they’re not the only things to consider. It is important to remember that inclusion and accessibility don’t only happen in classrooms but include all areas.
All learners should be able to access the school independently and safely. Think about the pavements surrounding the school. Are there curb-cuts linking pavements to the road or bollards that may block access for a wheelchair user? Is the width of the school gates or entrances suitable? Are there turnstiles?
Look at the surfaces surrounding the entrances. Are they smooth and free from tripping obstacles such as chip-stone that might make walking, pushing an assistive device or propelling a wheelchair difficult? Are there potholes that could be filled and smoothed over? Is there sufficient space for a learner to exit a vehicle safely? Are there demarcated accessible parking bays?
Play is important for all learners, including learners with disabilities. Consider whether all learners can access these spaces independently. If there are steps, can a ramp be added? Think about the playground surfaces. Could a learner with a physical disability slip, trip or not be able to manoeuvre themselves?
Do the spaces encourage all learners to play together or do they cause separation and exclusion? Are there age-, level- and ability-appropriate toys and apparatuses to play with? Are sporting facilities, including swimming pools and changing rooms, accessible?
It is crucial that all learners are able to move around in their classrooms. Consider the classroom seating and where learners with disabilities are positioned. It is important that the learners are involved in this process as they (and their parents) will know their individual needs best.
For some it is more comfortable at the end of a row of desks closer to the door, while another may prefer to be seated at the back so that they don’t block the view of other learners if they’re seated in a wheelchair.
Teachers also need to be aware of assistive and personal devices such as computers, standing frames, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs. Some devices may need electricity while others require space.
Also consider the floor surfaces. Bags, for example, should be kept off the floor and carpets need to be secured to prevent tripping.
Think about events such as sports days, prize-givings, school plays and assembly. Are all learners able to participate? While it may not be possible to install a lift, could the handing out of certificates or prizes for a particular learner’s class happen on the floor in front of the stage instead? Could arrangements be made and a play adapted to allow a learner with a disability to participate in the production?
Are bathrooms accessible to all learners? Are teachers willing to move classrooms to the ground floor if needed?
As far as possible, we need to ensure that we think about, plan for and aim to meet the needs of all learners. While some adaptations and accommodations are expensive and require input from the Department of Education, others can be made, borrowed or hired – and schools can host fundraising events or approach local businesses for sponsorships.
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