23 Apr No Assumptions, Please!
Let’s make inclusion happen!
Hi everyone, welcome back to my blog. I hope you all had a great Easter. In this post I want to talk about the need of having inclusion not only at schools but also for after school activities and I will be sharing some of my own experiences with you now.
In both Oxford and Rome I was lucky enough to go to good mainstream schools where I was supported part of the time by an LSE. I was the only student in my class with a disability but I became good friends with the rest of the class. In Rome our class was only 12 students. After I finished primary school in Rome and had to enter middle school, I was told that it didn’t go well, as my parents were looking into other international schools (since my Italian is not very good). Once the international schools heard that I have Down’s Syndrome I think that they kind of got scared as they began to make excuses saying that they were not really equipped or trained to have a child with a learning disability amongst them. One of the excuses (which I have been told) was that they said that the classrooms were far too small to provide an LSE for me, especially to have full time, when in reality the classes were actually bigger than what they said! So in 2013 we moved to Malta because of the schools, as they were much more inclusive and welcoming here. I spent the first half of my teenage years at St Martin’s College where I was in every class with my peers and a full-time shared LSE provided and like Rome, it was also great for friendships.
In the years that I attended St Martin’s I also attended the School of Performing Arts (SOPA) as an extracurricular activity. It is a fully mainstream performing arts school and there I made my closest friends as we had the same interests in musical theatre. After I turned 18, I could not find another school like SOPA as they moved onto focusing mainly on talent/ability. Just last year I attended the Adult Classes at Helen O’Grady which I really enjoyed and they were inclusive as I could attend them. Unfortunately I couldn’t continue these sessions because of the Covid19 situation. After I turned 18, I also started attending the theatre group of Opening Doors which I have found interesting They have also provided me with great opportunities, like writing this blog series and taking part in events for World Disability Day both in 2019 and 2020. But the only part I was not used to was that Opening Doors was only for those who have a learning disability. I have just found out that one of Opening Doors’ strategic goals for 2021 is “to engage in projects which are based on integrated collaborative works that are made up of people with and without disabilities” but unfortunately with Covid19 I didn’t get to see this part of it. But this year Opening Doors is going to be part of a project entitled: Acting on the Margins: Arts as Social Sculpture (AMASS) where I hope that we will get the chance to perform in a fully integrated environment.
What I have currently found out is that when it comes to mainstream education most parents push for it and want their child who has a disability to have a good education where they can be in a mixed environment. But in the case of extracurricular activities, it is different. It is like when it comes down to this it is still segregated, where one group is just for people with that disability. For example there are some groups which are just for youths with Down’s Syndrome, without being mixed with those who do not have a disability.
I think that this problem starts from an early age where the parents of little kids get them to take part in separated groups just so they are safe. Sometimes the separated group includes a mix of disabilities. But inclusion is not about being in a group with a mix of different disabilities. It is about a mix of those who have a disability and those who don’t. Luckily for me I have not experienced this because I have always been in fully inclusive settings. These have been great for me especially socially and have also helped me to be the person that I am today, and I am glad for it.
I think another thing that sometimes happens at extracurricular activities like drama or dance is that even when a child with a disability is passionate and talented in that line, they cannot compete because the standard and the ability level needed is far too high for them when in a mainstream group, which is keeping them away from taking part actively in society.
One solution is if you have a specialised group which is purely for those who have disabilities, they should start to do some training, like workshops that include those people who don’t have a disability sometimes, so they can get the experience of being fully inclusive. In fact I was just reading a paper on the internet called “Disabled students in the performing arts – are we setting them up to succeed?”. This paper gives ideas on how to provide access for those with disabilities in professional training in performing arts with those who don’t have disabilities.
Recently Arts Council Malta invited the public to attend some consultation sessions on their new Strategy. The first one I attended was a couple of weeks ago on Arts Education, and very interesting points came up. I came prepared as we have been looking into the current strategy as part of one of the units I have been studying at the Institute of Creative Arts MCAST. (This year I am doing some of the units from the BA from home. As part of the Cultural Policy unit we have been looking into and analysing the current Cultural Policy and Strategy.) If you are interested there will be a consultation session that covers inclusion on 28th April from 5-7 pm. Hope to see you there!
My message today is to take a stand and help by doing your part to make society fully inclusive and to change this current situation that we are in for the better so that everyone can feel included.
“Disabled students in the performing arts – are we setting them up to succeed?” Band, S.A., Lindsay, G., Neelands, J. and Freakley, V. (2011). http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/37602/
ACM consultation session on “Cohesion, Well-being, Diversity and Equality”: https://acmstrategy2025.mt/
AMASS Project ((Acting on the margins, arts as social sculpture): http://cultureventure.org/project/arts-as-social-sculpture/