By Madeline Egan
On Thursday, April 2nd, Professors Judy Bently and Maria Timberlake presented a sandwich seminar entitled, “Disability Studies and Special Education: What’s the Difference?” The information presented was beneficial for students of all majors. As someone who is in the Inclusive Special Education program, this presentation was an eye-opener for a future educator like myself. The world of disability is constantly changing, and the ideology behind disability studies gives a unique perspective for special educators.
The concept of “disability” has a negative connotation. What disability truly is, is a form of diversity, such a gender or ethnicity. Diversity is what makes up an individual, it is not something that needs to be fixed or changed. It was interesting to hear that the goal of special education is a way for people with disabilities to be included, but it might have created a barrier.
School districts allow education for everyone and students with special needs are included, but are they really? Most of the times students with special needs are learning in the same high school as their peers, but the special education classroom is separate in the school. As a special educator, you want to give assistance to a student who needs it. However, Professor Timberlake bought up the concept that “Yes, I have a label, but that’s not who I am, I just need to be educated.” The disability isn’t something a student needs to overcome.
One idea that was acknowledged in the presentation is that knowledge can be considered a privilege. Knowledge is a privilege for people who can easily obtain it. If you are not smart enough, then you do not deserve this privilege. The contrasting argument that both professors made was the difference between “strength and weakness” and “strength and need for support”. All students need support, but that doesn’t mean where they need support is a weakness. Drawing all this attention to the disability is just further creating a barrier. People with disabilities want to be educated, not pitied. One example that Professor Bentley bought to my attention was certain inspirational ads.
Sometimes you will see quotes on the Internet of “if he can do it, you shouldn’t have an excuse” and it would have a picture of a person with a disability overcoming an obstacle, like a blind man climbing a mountain. The disability studies stand that Professor Bentley took was “I’m not your inspiration,” instead it’s just another person accomplishing a task. The social construct that has developed from disabilities draws so much attention the disability and not the person. Can you honestly say that you would look at a girl who climbed the mountain that the blind man did, and have the same reaction to her accomplishment? Once again a disability is just another form of diversity. It needs to become a universal understanding.
As a future special educator I have learned to go into each task I do with a plan that works for people of all needs. When creating a lesson plan, I create each objective and activity with the mindset that any person can complete what I’m asking for, whether they have a disability or not.