Accessibility in Focus: Elisa’s Story
It’s such a packed term, isn’t it? To the average person, ‘accessibility’ evokes images of physical constraint, and for many it rightly is. But for some, it refers to the lack of access to much needed resources, as well as the acknowledgment of difficulties.
Having two children with additional support needs (ASN) has completely redefined this term for me. Life seems to be a constant battle of proving your child is ‘disabled enough’ to access support. This can start as early on as obtaining a diagnosis, but is sadly echoed through attempting to access benefits, social work and education. The Sisyphean task of filling in invasive and patronising paperwork has to be the worst of it. You just need to read a DLA form to understand how disabled people’s experiences are dismissed and discredited.
And to be honest, education isn’t any better. Although I am in a very fortunate position that my children are in schools which address their needs (after an arduous process, I note!), the presumption of mainstream is every ASN parent’s nightmare. Of course, I get the principle of inclusion at the heart of this policy, but in practice it can present an exclusionary, and ultimately, stressful experience for parents and children alike.
In my opinion the presumption of mainstream causes difficulty, stress and anxiety for already apprehensive parents. Not only are parents like me worried about how our children will learn in an environment that is not suited to their needs, we are anxious of putting them in a place which was not built for their neuro-diversion. Learning styles differentiate for all children, but this is even more diversified in a child who presents with additional support needs. This issue is also materialised in the curriculum, if the presumption of mainstream continues to claim inclusivity this needs to be addressed.
Delivery of inclusive education for ASN children requires access to resources, specialist staff and training. The schools that have the access to these assets seem only to be available through assessment of your child’s ‘needs’- in most cases, two 30-minute Educational Psychology observations of your child within their current setting- problematic, right? The whispers that travel through the ears of parents who have children with additional support needs all seem to suggest that budgeting pressures are the reason why our children are not offered a chance to attend school in an environment which is supportive of their learning styles and considerate of their needs.
I suppose I’m one of the ‘lucky ones’ in this respect as my son attended a mainstream nursery and was on one-to-one provision with an amazing member of staff who themselves had a child with additional support needs. Having someone there for him who really understood my worries and concerns really provided me with ease. But what if they weren’t there? Of course basic training is provided for staff surrounding children with additional support needs, but as a parent, I feel this is not enough. If a truly inclusive experience is the goal, spaces and specialist equiptment are foundational commodities which promote inclusion on a larger scale. This even includes access to changing spaces for people with continence needs- something which affects disabled adults as well as children.
In the search for appropriate schooling, my son was required to have an assessment with Educational Psychology for the transition to school or an ‘assessment of needs’. I came armed with a plethora of paperwork, including my own investigations of local ASN schools I found to be appropriate for him. I had visited nearly every ASN school in my area and beyond to find the perfect fit. I presented my argument based on his physical and emotional needs, learning style and locality of the school. I was not content on sending my son to the other side of Glasgow with an escort, when there was a wonderful school just over a mile away. In the end, the outcome was agreed in my favour. However, without pushing for it, I feel the outcome may have been different.
So what does the future of education look like for a child with additional support needs? From a parental perspective, I want parents to be heard. We understand the core of our child’s learning needs, and we understand their strengths and difficulties in a way teachers and practitioners do not. We are already so anxious about the future for our children, having them in environments which are nurturing, stimulating and supportive of their needs benefits both children and parents alike. We also need funding assurances. Training and specialist equiptment comes at a cost and is required to provide an inclusive educational experience. Perhaps even a wider academic reform to include ASL education in its own right rather than just a module. If we cannot provide a valuable learning experience to disabled children, then we are simply setting them up for a life of constant struggle to access the support they need.