Last night was the 2nd annual “Persons with Disabilities” Gala co-hosted by Motivation Romania and Active Watch. Active Watch is a journalistic group that focuses on social issues in Romania. The Gala promotes awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities, physical and intellectual, that continue to go unmet in Romanian society. Persons and public or private organizations from all over the country receive recognition at the Gala for their efforts and successes in this area. The theme this year was “education”. I was asked to write an article about inclusion to be put in the publication of the event, which follows.
INCLUSION:My Thoughts & Observations
By Barbara Carman
The United Nations “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” was on December 3, 2011. With this in mind, I have reviewed current statements of goals, statistics, and definitions of inclusion presented by various international organizations. I often feel inspired, encouraged, and optimistic when I read many of these thought-provoking statements. Then I think of how many years I have read basically the same thing: that inclusion is about all people having the right to live full lives and that societies everywhere should be pushing to remove the barriers for those who have been denied that right. Our focus within that group, for the Gala, is inclusion in education. Living in the United States is often seen as something of envy, a place where all is good and wealth outweighs our shortcomings. Whether one agrees with this or not we should remember we have been practicing democracy for over 200 years. Even with so much practice we have a long way to go until we can stand up and say that Social Justice is universal throughout our country.
Now that I’ve said that, you, the reader must be wondering who I am and why am I talking about this. Over ten years ago, as a social worker in education, I had the privilege to visit Romania with my husband, Rich, and three others in the field of disabilities. We met many people during our stay, including persons who worked for and/or received services from Motivation Romania. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was a life-changing experience! Being from the US, I was accustomed to living a full life with seemingly few barriers. However, I had never met a group of people with such passion, determination, and positive interdependence in creating emotional and physical strategies to cope with the many barriers that confronted them daily. I have been to Romania at least once a year since that first trip, to work, volunteer, or attend special occasions in the lives of our friends here. At this time Rich and I live here three months a year. Needless to say, I have learned so much from my Romanian friends and have seen many positive changes in this country through the years.
I started this article with the “bird’s eye” view on the issue of inclusion, or seeing things from above as in the proclamations and policies of what the world should be. I now want to give a “worm’s eye” view because only from ground level can we truly see the real nature of challenges or the successes of others.
During my time in Romania I visit schools, provide classroom observations, and training sessions to teachers. There have always been a few teachers who are especially interested, and a few who accepted one or two children who have intellectual disabilities into their classrooms. I’ve had a wonderful experience becoming acquainted with one teacher who has accepted a few students with disabilities when their parents have approached her. She loves teaching and wants to do what she thinks is right. I must admit that I was dismayed to learn that parents still have to find a teacher who will consider accepting their child. Many schools have fresh paint, new windows, furniture, and computers, BUT little that welcomes students with disabilities.
There are schools in Romania that are using some good inclusive practices. There are also NGO’s or other groups that have relationships with schools, having the common goal to create inclusive learning settings. My sense is that we are at a point where we should be celebrating, through this Gala, the accomplishments of individuals who promote inclusion of ALL children in education where they can learn social and cognitive skills to build on their abilities. These individuals will be or are leaders who organize parents, individuals with disabilities, and professionals to effect change at the local level. I believe there is a role for government but it has been my experience that they only lead when they see successful alternatives to the current reality.
So returning to the analogy of the worm’s eye view I believe that the real solutions to improving the status of inclusive education in Romania will start with people on the ground not in the Parliament. It will come because it is right, and an organized movement of advocates will make it happen.