Over the weekend, I went to a conference on inclusion sponsored by the Northwest Down Syndrome Association. What is inclusion? In general, it means that kids with disabilities go to neighborhood schools in classes with their peers and participate fully in their communities. For example, Anthony is the only child at his daycare who has Down syndrome, and he and Anant are the only kids in their Music Together class this term who have Down syndrome. That is inclusion. A "special ed" preschool in which all the kids have disabilities is not inclusion.
One of the highlights of the conference was a presentation by Kathie Snow, author of the book Disability is Natural. Kathie's website has a ton of useful information, including lots of short articles you can download for free.
Here are some quotes from Kathie that illustrate her philosophy:
"Very young children with disabilities may spend countless hours, day in and day out, receiving "special services" and interventions, or attending 'special programs'-- and in the process, their natural and joyous childhoods may be lost."
"Advocates in the field have traditionally agitated for more services and more funding. But we do not need more special programs that isolate and segregate people who have been labeled with disabilities. We need, instead, inclusion in schools, communities, employment, and in other typical environments. To move toward that direction requires us to recognize that disability is a 'natural part of the human experience' (as stated in the US Developmental Disabilities Act and other laws). In addition, we need to acknowledge that people with disabilities are fine, just the way they are!"
"Instead of trying to "fix" people with disabilities, we need to ensure they have the tools they need for success (such as assistive technology devices for movement, speech, and other needs) and accommodations (physical, social, or other types of support), to enhance their successful inclusion and participation in the typical, ordinary, environments most Americans take for granted."