Author: Cathie Camley
There was a time when there was a sharp divide between those advocating for kids with high incidence disabilities and those kids with low incidence disabilities. Those families who had children in segregated settings fought long and hard to have their children included in regular education classrooms. With a dedicated effort they were successful and the Ministry mandated inclusion. Almost all segregated setting were closed and those children began attending regular education classes with their non-disabled peers. It was a huge victory.
Families who had children with high incidence disabilities attending specialized programs watched in dismay as their children’s highly successful programs were also closed as the philosophy of inclusion swept the province. They rallied their efforts to keep their highly-prized programs open with some success, but a lot of backlash.
Families with kids in low incidence categories saw those efforts as a threat to their children’s inclusion….a slippery slope back to forced segregation. They felt that all they had fought so long to achieve would slip away. High incidence families felt that their children had been sacrificed to a model of full inclusion that was harmful to their children and seemed contrary to Ministry policy that allowed for some specialized settings.
So, for almost a decade, there were two very polarized camps and the rhetoric from both sides would often turn quite nasty. There was a sense of absolutism and protectionism and neither side was about to give an inch. That tone has tempered over time but it has not disappeared – especially now when resources are so limited….or so we are told.
Our group is made up of families from both high and low incidence categories. Generally there is consensus on most matters. Yet, at times, that old fear-based division bubbles up again….not so much about inclusion, but about how fairly resources are distributed.
We have been conditioned to think this way because that’s what we’ve been told is the reality and, I would add, serves a purpose for the those who hold the purse strings. When the principal tells you that there are others worse off than your child so, no, you can’t get extra help; when you keep getting sent to the back of the line for assessments because you are told that others need it more urgently; when the teacher says your child does not bring in any funding so they cannot have a much needed aid….when we hear these things we are conditioned to believe that there’s only so much to go around….that if one child gets another has to do without.
If we accept that, then we give permission (like school boards do) for our children’s rights and entitlements to be flexible – indexed to the size of a finite pot of resources that keeps shrinking. Districts may grumble and even fume about it, but they make those cuts anyway.
If our families – high and low incidence – continue to accept that there isn’t enough to go around, if we complain but continue to accept less, or begin to squabble amongst ourselves about who is more in need – protecting what little we have at the expense of another – then we keep our thinking in the same boxed-in space as school boards, doomed to grudgingly accept there will be a smaller pot to scrap over each year. If we do this, it is at our own peril.
The equitable access clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is about ensuring that everyone gets what they need, be it a little or a lot. Forget categories, funding formulas, etc. That right is based solely on the individual identified needs of each person – not on the size of the resource pot no matter what you are told to believe. We cannot concede that simple fact when we advocate for our children. We must stand for equitable access for all.