Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Inclusion and institutionalization: Never the twain shall meet

Addie in Torrie Dunlap's outstanding TEDx presentation [YouTube]
You have to hand it to the PR team at Aleh. Everything it produces these days sports the terms "inclusion" and "complex disabilities", two very popular concepts in the disability arena.

With Rosh Hashana tonight, here is the introduction to an Aleh solicitation that potential donors received this holiday season:
For over 700 children with complex disabilities ALEH is a lifeline, helping them to develop far beyond their prognoses, and to be accepted and included within society.
Now, you might wonder, as I do, how inclusion and the Aleh enterprise can be mentioned in the same breath. I mean, isn't institutionalization the name of the Aleh game? And isn't institutionalization the antithesis of inclusion, the purist incarnation of exclusion that exists on earth?

So how can Israel's largest chain of warehouse-institutions for people with disabilities assert that it champions "inclusion"? [Click here for my previous posts about their work.]

Well, evidently, it can. And with ease. As long as nobody stops it. 

And droves of donors for whom Aleh is their only encounter with the world of disabilities flock to support it, unaware that they are being duped. They truly believe that Aleh embodies the lofty ideals of integration and inclusion that they so respect.

Sadly it seems they have never been exposed to speakers like Torrie Dunlap who can clearly and expertly define "inclusion" for them.

I am confident that a few minutes spent listening to this excellent speaker would straighten those well-intentioned people out. 

In this 2015 TEDx talk [the report is entitled "Why separating kids with disabilities from their peers hurts instead of helps"], for instance, she says
“I believe that a reason why, as a society, we have not embraced children with disabilities as full participants in our schools and communities is the limitation of our own mental models around disability, We have moved from hiding and institutionalizing children to a world where kids with disabilities are special and receive special services in special settings with special caregivers, and they - and their families - are disenfranchised from the community at large... ["Isn't it a pity? The real problem with special needs" via YouTube]
As you can see, even in the current post-institutionalization society of the United States and other developed countries, true inclusion is not yet a reality.
So it goes without saying that here in Israel, where such progress has not yet been achieved, inclusion for people with disabilities is a fantasy. Because, as Dunlap continues:
“When we create a separate, special place for children where their ‘special needs’ can be met, we are teaching them that their place is over there, with people like them and not in the full community.”
Dunlap related several anecdotes about children with disabilities and their treatment by teachers. She concluded her talk with this one:
I want to introduce you to my friend Addie. She’s 8 now, and in 3rd grade, but I want to tell you about her school music performances in 1st and 2nd grade. Addie uses a wheelchair and also does not use her voice to communicate. During the performance Addie sat 20 feet away from her peers, on the other side of a wall with her aide. The way she was made a part of it was by the decorations the class put on her wheelchair. So, there she is in her adorned chair far away from her peers. You can see which model is in play, right? Fast forward to 2nd grade and it’s time for a music performance. Addie has a teacher using a different mental model and this time she is on stage, next to her peers and she has a meaningful role to play in the show. They had used Addie’s recorder to capture her sister Emily’s voice saying “Thank you for coming to our performance” and after the few songs are over Addie hits a button that starts the recording. Huge beaming smile on her face. The teacher looked at the barriers and overcame them- and it wasn’t that difficult.
Dunlap is a superlative speaker and I urge you to listen to her entire talk. I have no doubt you will feel compelled as I am to convey to Aleh and its supporters this message:
"Separate is Not Equal"
"Institutionalization is Not Inclusion"
Shana Tova to you all!

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