What is Full Inclusion?

This article was written for VAANI by Dr Madan Vasishta, an associate professor in the Administration and Supervision Graduate Programme in Gallaudet University, USA. He became deaf after a childhood attack of typhoid and mumps. 

The term “full inclusion” coined in the United States of America in the late 1980’s. It was started by parents who were unhappy with the implementation of Least Restricted Environment (LRE) mandate of the law (Individuals with Disabilities Act). They felt that LRE was not fully implemented and their children were only partially mainstreamed or included in general education classes. They wanted their child to be “fully included” and the term was coined. It is not a law; it is a philosophy. And it is a great idea.

A disabled child, according to this philosophy, should be involved in all educational and affective domain activities equally with his non-disabled peers. Under this philosophy there is no room for “oh he cannot do this, therefore, he can sit this activity out.” Thus, this term is great and it is attractive. Politicians and educators who live in ivory tower picked it up fast and began to push for it without understanding what it is. In the United States, after an initial euphoria about it, it was used sparingly. However, in India it became a mantra for politicians and ivory-towered advocates.  “I hate special education” and “segregated schools should be burned” became the slogans. “We must have full inclusion for all children” was pushed as an agenda without defining the term.

Before we go further, we need to remember that no two disabilities are alike.  Children with mental, visual, hearing and physical disabilities have different needs. A child with physical disability can be fully included in a regular classroom because he can see, hear and think like other children. He cannot join regular football, but can have physical activities according to his ability. A blind child can also be included in a regular classroom; however, we have to make sure that everything the teacher writes on the blackboard is transcribed into Braille text at the same time—not after the class. We have to make sure that the blind child has access to a Braille machine to “write” when other students have written assignments.

The situation for deaf children is VERY different.  Deafness causes communication problems. A deaf child’s inclusion in a classroom depends on his expressive and receptive communication skills. If a deaf child can speak perfectly and hear well enough to understand his teacher and classmates without any help—both in small and large groups—then that deaf child can be fully included in that classroom. How many deaf children can do that?

A deaf child who has good speech and can communicate effectively individually can participate in a classroom when he is in a one-on-one situation. If he cannot follow group discussions and understand the teacher then he is, at best, partially included.  Do we want our children to be partially included?

For the majority of deaf children who cannot speak clearly and cannot lipread or hear even with the help of hearing aids, being in a general education classroom is only physical inclusion. They maybe physically included in that classroom.  Educationally, they are not fully or even partially included. Putting an interpreter in the classroom will alleviate the situation a little bit. The child will understand what the teacher is saying and express himself through the interpreter. However, it will depend on how skilled the interpreter is. In India, based on my observations, we may have at most 50 interpreters who can do the job satisfactorily. We need a million trained interpreters to meet the needs of deaf children in mainstream settings. Even with a skilled interpreter a deaf child is only partially included. Children learn from each other. A lot happens between classes. The interpreter will not be there all the time with the child.

A deaf child will be fully included only if the teacher is a fluent signer and the students in the class also can sign fluently. Deafness is a communicational disability and as long as the barrier of communication is not removed, a deaf child cannot be included—partially or fully.

As a parent, it is imperative that you make sure that your child gets best education that is possible.  You need to look at your child’s strengths as well as weakness. You need to realise that your deaf child is different than other deaf children. In order to make sure that your child is included in a real sense, you have to make sure he can understand what his teacher and classmates are saying and his teachers and classmates can understand him.  Full inclusion is not just physical placed in a general classroom; it is much more than that. If your child does not have full two-way communication, then he is actually “fully excluded. “

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