Education of Disabled Students: Inclusion vs. Mainstreaming

In his book, I’m Not Here to Inspire You, Rob J. Quinn published an essay on mainsreaming vs. inclusion and why inclusion has failed. He writes that, when he was mainstreamed in the 1980s, he had to somehow prove he was capable of going to regular school, whereas currently disabled students are included in regular education at all costs.

I was mainstreamed from 1999 to 2005. I, like Quinn, had to prove I was capable of being mainstreamed. Unlike Quinn, I was the only student with my disability in my school, which I until I read Quinn’s essay considered a definition of mainstreaming: the school really caters to non-disabled people but allows disabled people in who prove they’re capable.

Quinn considiers inclusion to do a disservice to disabled students because they’re given too much assistance. As an example, he writes about a girl with a similar level of cerebral palsy to himself who was given special assistance in all of her classes, while Quinn had to get by without extra assistance. Similarly, except in a few math classes, I did not get extra assistance. In these math classes, they were older students giving me assistance, not aides.

I understand Quinn’s point about overassistance. However, I see him writing from the point of view of someone who doesn’t have a cognitive disability. He points out that he heard of a girl with Down Syndrome being placed in advanced classes because “the kids are nicer there”. I can understand this erodes the meaning of advanced placements. Besides, I agree with Quinn that kids with disabilities need to be prepared for the real world and therefore as I said should not be overprotected or overassisted. However, this does not mean that students with cognitive disabilities need to be shoved away into special ed classes until they somehow prove they can get by in regular education.

Another objection Quinn has to inclusion is the lack of exporsure to other students with similar disabilities. When he was mainstreamed all kids with cerebral palsy went to the same schoool in the district. This is not what mainstreaming is like here: I was the only blind student in my school. In this sense, I’d love to have been given an education like Quinn’s, having exposure to people without disabilities as well as those with disabilities. In the Netherlands, unfortunately, at least in the 1990s, you either were the only kid with a sensory or physical disability, or you went to special education and were surrounded by students with your disability.

Quinn concludes that students with disabilities, according to him, need to somehow prove they are capable of mainstreaming if they want to be in regular education. I disagree. After all, people with significant disabilities shouldn’t have to prove they have a right to live in our society, right? I know some pro-institution people disagree, but other than in his essay on mainstreaming, Quinn doesn’t advocate exclusion. Maybe he would for those with intellectual disabilities. I for one won’t.

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