Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

The "Inclusion" of Students with Vision Impairments: Generational Perspectives in Australia

Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

The "Inclusion" of Students with Vision Impairments: Generational Perspectives in Australia

Article excerpt

"They may guess that we're different some way [beyond] ... visually impaired. Maybe they consider us to be just different I guess." (17-year-old "included" student)

"I know I've got a problem, And that's why you have to be in the SEP [special education program] 'cause, you've got a problem. But yeah. It annoys me because I've got a problem. I just want to be normal." (13-year-old "included" student)


The above excerpts taken from interview data that informed a study with young people with vision impairment, who attended an inclusive secondary school in the Australian State of Queensland, form the basis of the key arguments presented in this paper. The young people there were five in all--attended the same public school in Queensland in 2010 and each one was enrolled via a special education program (SEP) that supported students with a range of impairments to 'integrate' into mainstream classes. Each student attended lessons for most--if not all of the school day--and were generally supported by paraprofessionals to do so. In the remarks above, the students referred explicitly to the differences that they perceived within the school that to them, consisted of the abnormal kids with disabilities, and the normal kids without.

Placing themselves on the pejorative side of this binary because of their vision loss, these students described the actions of stakeholders (teachers, specialist support staff, paraprofessionals, transport providers, friends and less acquainted peers) together with themselves to a degree that reinforced their marginalisation. The school provided the students with "heavy" paraprofessional support that undermined their autonomy and contributed to their social exclusion in classes (Whitburn, 2013a). Consequently, as affirmed in the above quotes, the young people's perceptions of their inclusion in the school demonstrate that on the whole they felt as if they were disabled (intended as a verb rather than an adjective) beyond the sum of their actual impairments. This was the case despite the fact that the young people were positive toward their schooling. Their academic and sporting achievements, the support they received from some personnel, and the friends that they had made (Whitburn, 2013b) were all notable achievements. Nevertheless, the cloud of anomaly rendered their inclusion in the school as illusionary (Graham & Slee, 2008; Hodkinson, 2012a).

Recognising that there are stories embedded in all social discourse, Gough (2010) encourages researchers to write narrative as an ancillary research practice. In this paper I am using the term 'trans-identity research alliance' (Slee, 2011) to mean a participatory approach to research in which a group -including the researcher--is made up of members who have shared experiences. I conclude by theorising such an alliance using Foucault's concepts of how human beings are made subjects (1982) and Bourdieu's flexibility in qualitative inquiry (1998). But first it seems appropriate to situate this research.

Being on the Inside

Having severely impaired vision, and also having attended a similar school as the young people in the 1990s, entering the school site as the researcher bestowed me certain privileges. My experiences of ducking and weaving the deficit discourse on account of my impairment has led me to research with a transformative agenda for young people with disabilities. In short, following Moss's (2012) suggestion, my intention is to uncover the barriers to inclusion from the perspectives of those on the inside. Disability studies undertaken with a transformative agenda require that researchers are grounded within the cultures that they investigate (Mertens, Sullivan & Stace, 2011). With an eye on inclusive ideals, researchers with disabilities who work within education can challenge traditional special provision (Slee, 1996), which to others, may make the familiar look strange (Biesta, Allan & Edwards, 2011). …

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