What are the ingredients of Mainstreaming?
30 years ago young people with disabilities were expected to make baskets and were rarely seen on the campuses of higher education. Today, there has been a revolution and young people with disabilities in Ireland are studying on all courses across higher education, gaining qualifications and good jobs. Equality legislation, government policy, additional funding, deeper understanding of disability, disability support services, the ever increasing use of technology, have made this huge change possible.
AHEAD over the last 30 years has also played its part in leading this change. Its research led policy changes and to the Fund for Students with Disabilities; to the setting up of disability support services, and the alternative entry scheme that has become DARE. Collaboration with the disability and access officers has led to a community of practice across the sector which has supported staff and students alike and brought about greater standardisation and reliability of provision for students.
Institutions through their disability and access support services have developed a significant body of new knowledge about disability which has in turn improved the experience of all students with disabilities.
In looking ahead to the future it is vital to celebrate this success but to also realise that further progress needs to be made. The current model is not an inclusive one but an Add – 0n model of disability supports, which is unable to cope with the increasing numbers of students with disabilities year on year, now 6% of the student population. Changing the curriculum, the pedagogy and the relationship with students is a key requirement of mainstreaming inclusive practice and it is everyone’s job.
Inclusion is not just about disability, it is about the diversity of students in higher education. It is clear to me that there are opportunities now to meet this diversity challenge and for institutions to invest in mainstreaming inclusion. The benefits are significant as inclusion improves the experience of all students, reduces dropout rates, introduces more creative pedagogy, problem solving and enhances the reputation of the institution. Recent research carried out in Canada identifies collaboration amongst staff as a key ingredient for inclusion. Bringing academic and other staff together to explore different perspectives and ideas will spark creativity and build communities to implement inclusive practice. So we ask the leaders of our higher institutions to encourage and foster collaboration for mainstreaming inclusion by giving it the time and space it deserves.