People with disabilities are worthy of money and effort

In the part of special education community that promotes inclusive education, I often hear advocates say things like “inclusion doesn’t have to be hard,” “inclusion doesn’t have to be expensive,” and “inclusion doesn’t require special skills.”

This isn’t really true, unless we exclude a lot of people from “inclusion”. Some access needs are easy to meet; many are not. We can bring some people in without too much trouble. In order to commit to full inclusion, we’re going to have to be willing to spend money, acquire expertise, do hard things, and make changes.

For instance, people who can’t rely on speech as their primary means of communication need support learning to communicate. This is inherently expensive:

  • They usually need expensive devices
  • (The cheapest good option is an iPad with a $200 app; some people need dedicated devices that cost upwards of $10,000.) 
  • They also usually need therapy
  • Having a communication device doesn’t solve all of someone’s problems; they also have to learn how to use it
  • (And they usually need help learning how)
  • Or they need something like RPM, which is low-tech but requires twice-daily 1:1 lessons which use scripts that generally have to be prepared in advance specifically for that student.
  • If they are in school, they need teachers who know how to teach them (which generally means that experts have to teach their teachers how.)
  • AAC communication is slower, and can be hard to interpret
  • Inclusion doesn’t happen automatically; teachers have to learn how to make sure AAC users are able to participate and be heard in class
  • (Eg: If someone isn’t using complete sentences yet, it can be hard to know what they mean. You have to be willing and able to do the work of helping them to clarify).
  • (And: if someone responds slowly, you have to proactively make sure they get a chance to express their thoughts in class discussions)
  • All of this requires money, expertise, effort, and willingness to change
  • If we’re only willing to consider cheap options, people who need communication support are left behind

Another example: People need to be able to get into the building

  • Many buildings were built incorrectly
  • They may have large flights of stairs at all entrances
  • They may have many floors that can only be reached by stairs
  • They may not have any accessible bathrooms
  • The bathrooms may all be too small to enter in a wheelchair (which means there’s no way to fix them without moving walls)
  • All of the doors may be big and heavy
  • Often, there’s no cheap way to fix this
  • There may be inexpensive starting places; we can’t stop there
  • If we care about including people with mobility disabilities, we have to be willing to spend money to fix buildings
  • We have to hire architects who have expertise in accessibility
  • We have to make sure that people with mobility disabilities are part of the conversation, even if no one with a mobility disability has expressed interest in accessing the building recently
  • We have to be willing to make changes that make the building look different, in ways that may mean changing or destroying things that longtime users of the building are emotionally attached to.

We can start with the low hanging fruit; we should not pretend that all fruit is low-hanging. A lot of access needs are inherently expensive. There are a lot of needs that no one even knows how to meet yet; the expertise we need does not yet exist. If we want to commit to full inclusion of children with disabilities in schools; if we want to fully include adults in all aspects of society, we need to be in it for the long haul.

tl;dr In order to stop excluding people with disabilities, we’re going to have to spend money. We’re going to have to bring in expertise and develop expertise. We’re going to have to do difficult things. We’re going to have to make changes. We’re going to have to start seeing this as normal. People with disabilities are worthy of money and effort.