February is National Inclusive Education Month in Canada. This is a great opportunity to share ideas and strategies to enhance inclusion, as well as acknowledge the commitment of teachers, administrators, students, and families who contribute to successful inclusion of students in classrooms throughout Canada.
Why Inclusive Education?
According to Inclusive Education Canada, schools are mirrors of our communities, and must be rich and robust places of opportunity where we learn together.
Research shows us that all students learn better in inclusive classrooms. An inclusive education system teaches students the benefits of diversity, cooperation, and consideration of others, whereas separated programs create barriers against opportunities for children to learn from, support, and develop relationships with one another.
Canada has made significant progress in making schools inclusive in the last few decades. In fact, our country is seen as one of the most advanced in this effort! However, the progress has not been uniform, and many parts of the country remain entrenched in the traditional models of special education. Thousands of children with intellectual disabilities face discrimination and segregation in schools every day. They are unable to participate in the common learning environment with their siblings and peers. Their schools and classrooms have not been structured or supported to make inclusion a reality.
Canada by the Numbers:
- Fewer than 50% of children with intellectual disabilities are in fully inclusive school settings.
- Children with an intellectual disability are four times more likely than other children with disabilities to be attending separate special education schools.
- Approximately 30% of children with an intellectual disability had to leave their community school or neighbourhood school in order to receive an education.
- Of the more than 1,300 Ontario elementary and secondary school principals surveyed, between 40% and 50% have, from time to time, asked parents to keep their children with disabilities at home.
Segregated, special classrooms, limited access to teams, and lowered expectations are just some of the ways that children with intellectual disabilities are excluded in Canadian schools. We can do better. Working together, we can make Canadian schools inclusive.
Right now in Canada, there are excellent examples of educators, schools, and broader school systems that have developed policies, strategies, support models, and professional learning that encourage the implementation of a rights-based framework of inclusive education. These should be shared and promoted throughout the system.
In December 2017, I was honoured to present Microsoft Accessibility Technologies to teachers at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario. This is the only school in Ontario for blind and deafblind students, and the only such school in Canada serving academic students. W. Ross Macdonald draws students from across Ontario and other provinces, and has residences to accommodate those that do not live in the area. Placement there is a decision made by students, parents, and their local school board when it’s decided that the school’s environment would be the best option at that time. In addition to their own students, the school provides services to other boards for students who are blind or deafblind. This is an excellent example of inclusive education in action in the wider community!
Speaking at W. Ross Macdonald showed me how technology can create opportunities to better include and accommodate people with disabilities. Disability is not a personal health condition; disability is a mismatching of human interaction. If we create the right environment and platform, people with all abilities will be able to bring their best.
With more than 1 billion individuals in the world with disabilities, there is no limit to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of all those who use it.
Disability is diversity and diversity is disability.
Within my own work at Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. As part of this mission, we’re dedicated to building an inclusive culture that celebrates differences and reflects the diversity of the people we serve. We’re also committed to creating technology that works for everyone, everywhere. That includes the workplace, the classroom, and society at large.
I hope you’ll help us get our message of inclusion out in Canada. Everyone can participate! To help us celebrate National Inclusive Education Month, share your accessibility and inclusion story from February 1st to 9th in a post or video with the hashtag #MSFTIncludEd. Learn more about how you can take part here: msft.social/H3qkds
Let the world know how you see inclusion in action in your community!
You can also nominate a school that's done amazing work with accessibility and inclusion. The winning school will receive 15 HP X360 devices and an HP Sprout, all equipped with Windows 10 and its full suite of accessibility features. This is a great chance to celebrate the heroes of inclusion in your community. You can enter your nomination at microsoft.ca/includEd
Let's keep this conversation going. If you feel this article will be relevant to someone in your network, please share it with them. I thank you personally for reading this and supporting inclusivity in your community!
Ricardo Wagner is originally from Brazil, living and working in Canada. He is an economist with an MBA in Business and Marketing. Ricardo has worked for Microsoft since 2006, and is currently the Senior Product Marketing Manager responsible for helping organizations build Modern Workplaces. As a subject-matter expert in accessibility, he is co-leading the Disability Initiative at Microsoft Canada. He is also an Ambassador for Microsoft MySkills4Afrika program, with volunteering assignments in Rwanda, Kenya, Angola, and Mozambique. His philosophy is to live deeply and intensely, sharing compassion, inspiration, and love along the way.