Circling the Wagons: Disability and Access to Education
Ryan, Anne (2008) Circling the Wagons: Disability and Access to Education. In: Pathways9 Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 2-5 December, 2008, Melbourne, Australia.
This chapter proposes a conceptual framework in which to reflect on the phenomenon of exclusion with particular reference to disability. As a reflective practitioner I want to open a dialogue where I can seek to make sense of the world where the history of disability is littered with discrimination and oppression that has hidden the humanity, individuality and ordinariness of people with disabilities. The term ‘disability’ appears to be a residual category, used to encapsulate a wide range of people who may or may not have anything in common in terms of their everyday experience of the world but who are lumped together because of who they are not. Everyday language is important because it reveals what is valued, what is defined as ‘normal’, who is categorised as ‘different’ and how ‘outsiders’ are positioned. What people with disabilities have in common is a label of ‘otherness’ which relies for its meaning on not being able-bodied or able-minded. At the same time ideologies of able bodied-ness and able minded-ness go largely unchallenged. The chapter argues that unless initiatives to promote inclusiveness are grounded in principles of equality and entitlement they do little to counter discrimination, oppression and injustice, and may in fact entrench them. In this chapter I want to explore whether the current dominant approaches to broadening access to education for people with disabilities are consolidating or dismantling existing exclusionary practices and attitudes. This is important because factors that alienate or disconnect people from each other result in silencing those who are excluded and impoverishing the community as a whole. I call the chapter ‘Circling the Wagons’– a regular defense strategy in the old cowboys’ movies and a fitting metaphor to evoke a number of themes I want to explore. The first of these is exclusion – keeping out one group and defending the interests of another. When countering exclusion it is important not only to look at ways of getting or improving access but also to look at what is being guarded, how it is guarded and why it is guarded. The second theme is that of stereotyping. ‘Circling the Wagons’ usually takes place among a cast of clearly defined heroes, villains and victims. Who occupies each role is dependent on who is telling the story. In tackling exclusion, knowing whose perspective is privileged is key to understanding the values and beliefs that inform decisions on how to promote inclusiveness. The third theme is that of insider/outsider. Those who attacked the wagons were interested in more than these specific wagons; they knew that these wagons represented a much bigger happening yet at the same time those in the wagons knew little of their adversaries or the land they traveled through, other than the myths and legends that left them in fear of their lives.
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