#037 Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic

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This episode is sponsored by Good Things in Life’s upcoming course, Belonging in School: The What, Why and How of Inclusive Education.

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Norm Kunc and Emma Van der Klift tell a Sufi story.  

A police officer sees a man under a street light at the side of the road. He appears to be looking for something.  

Officer: “What are you looking for?” 

Man: “My keys.” 

Officer: “Where did you lose them.” 

Man: (pointing off into the distance) “Over there.” 

Officer: “Then why are you looking for them here?” 

Man: “Because the light is better over here.” 

This is perhaps, an apt way of describing common approaches to educating students with disabilities.  

In their new book,  Being Realistic Is Unrealistic,  Emma and Norm challenge the idea that children need to have abilities and be ready before they are given access to typical opportunities like curriculum and inclusive education.  

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Genia:           Welcome to the Good Things in Life Podcast Norm and Emma, I am so, so thrilled that you are here today. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show. I’m wondering if you could start by introducing yourself and talking about your, um, history, your involvement with people with disabilities and um, and their families

Emma:            I’m Emma Vandercliff and I guess I have been hanging around with people with disabilities and their families since I was a teenager. Really. Um, I began working in a group home for 10 people with intellectual disabilities when I was 19. And in those days that was considered state of the art 10 bed group home. Yeah. But I was the same age as everyone and so we had a different kind of relationship than the average, um, support worker person being supported relationship, even though we were called supervisors. So I was working in a group home for 10 people with intellectual disabilities and um, it was different than, than a lot of the relationships that you see between support workers and people who are supported because we were all the same age. And even though we were called supervisors, which is a title I really dislike, supervising what, you know, supervising who, um, we did all the kinds of things at 19 year olds do. We went out to the pub, we had water fights in the kitchen, all of those things and some of those people are still my friends to this day. Um, I then went on to do all kinds of other things in human services, everything you could imagine right up to and including labor relations. I got out of master’s degree in conflict processes and when Norman I first met, which was about homeless 30 years ago now, he convinced me to quit the day job and go on the road with him doing training and speaking, which is what we have been doing for the last 30 years. So that’s essentially me. I’m also, um, and I’ll talk about this probably as we go through the podcast. Yup. I am an, I was an undiagnosed autistic kid and went through the school system that way because I kind of predate those diagnosis. Right. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Sure.

Norm:            And I’m Norman Kunc. I was born with cerebral palsy. And I went to school for disabled kids in kindergarten right up to grade seven and in eight grade, they wanted to put me in a segregated class in a regular school five miles are my home. And I nixed that idea. So I argued my way into school in my neighborhood. And that time there were no models of inclusion or main streaming. So I basically had to do a lot of problem solving. You know how you take notes, how you do math on a typewritten etcetera. So then I went on to do an undergraduate degree and after graduate school I wrote a book detailing some of the workarounds I came up with and that book got published. And even though I went on to do a masters in family therapy, I started to get speaking requests inclusive education and that had built up so much by the time I ended by Masters degree I ended up being a public speaker on inclusive education rather than family therapist.

Genia:           Right. And so you’ve spent then the last, well close to 30 years presenting and writing and facilitating other people’s journey around, um, topics of disability and inclusion, not just inclusive education, but um, you know, really inclusive lives in, in community. So, um, in your newly released book, Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic, you talk about how the two of you have a different, um, perspective on inclusion now that you are both disabled adults. And I’m wondering if you could elaborate on that.

Emma:            Sure. Um, let me go first. Uh, there’s uh, a Sufi story, we heard it was a Sufi story, um, that we really like and it goes like this. There’s a policeman walking on the road one day and it’s really, really dark. And underneath the lone street light, he sees a man on his hands and knees. And this man is apparently looking for something. So the policeman goes up to him and says, what are you doing? And the man says, I’m looking for my keys. And policemen says, well, where did you lose them? And he points over in the distance it says over there and the policeman says, well, why are you looking for your keys here if you lost them over there? And he says, because the light’s better here. We really believe. I know, right? That is fantastic. We really believe that when it comes to inclusive education and thinking about good lives for people.

Emma:            Yeah. We’ve the same thing we’ve gone to where the empirical studies have told us we should look. We’ve gone to journal Articles, we’ve gone to professionals and we’ve been looking for those keys and maybe we need to back up and think about where we lost them. Right? The way that we like to talk about this is really around the paradigm that exists in inclusive education and the paradigm that we have used for the longest time is basically that ability proceeds opportunity. In other words, you need to become better at doing things so that you will have the opportunity to do things right. And we haven’t really questioned that in inclusive education or in human services period. We haven’t questioned that. We’ve said, well, you need all the life skills before you can be in the regular class. You need to know how to do these certain set of skills.

Emma:            But the, the terrible thing about that is that the catch 22 is that when you’re not in the, the actual place where you’re going to be needing those skills, you, um, you don’t learn them as well. So, you know, we, we send kids to school and we ask them to make a bed in the middle of a, of a room, a life skills room. It’s not their bed, it’s not bedtime, it’s not morning. And then we wonder why those skills don’t get generalized. And we do the same thing in adult services. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. And you know, we know people who have been through that kind of a program for years and years and years, and by the time they’re 65 they’re still in work readiness. Like, excuse me, when are you going to be ready to graduate so you can actually get a job?

Emma:            Yeah. So what we’ve thought about is what we’ve asked ourselves is why do we do that and how might we think about that differently? One of the things that we sometimes ask our audiences to do, and we’ve written about it in the book as well, is imagine for a moment, try to think in the privacy of your own mind. Think about five famous artists. Once you have that in your mind, now think about five famous painters.

Emma:            Now think about five famous classical composers. I’m willing to, if any of you are like the audiences that we have done this exercise with before, what you will notice is that you’ve probably thought about people like, oh, Venga and, and um, Picasso and Renoir. And um, in terms of the composers you might’ve thought of, Bach or Beethoven, what do all those people have in common? They’re all men. So if you are going to think about ability needing to precede opportunity, you would assume from that that no women during that time period or maybe even since or that all women have been devoid of artistic or musical sensibility, right? We know that that’s not true, right? We know that it’s because women have not been given the opportunity, right? So what we take from that is an understanding that opportunity doesn’t have any much to do with ability. What it has to do with social conventions, who gets the opportunity to do things and that has flipped that whole idea of what comes first. Is it opportunity or is it ability? And we think we’ve made a fundamental mistake by saying that ability always needs to precede opportunity.

Genia:           Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. The, the most, um, crystal clear example of that in my son’s life is around communication and access to assistive and augmentative communication tool. So, um, my, my son has, um, you know, limited good control over his hands and his arms and you know, needs, um, and can’t speak and uses tech to, to communicate. And we would go in and they would assess him and they would say, well, he, you know, he’s, he’s not ready for it. He doesn’t have the skills to be able to do this. You need to work on choice-making. You need to work on, you know. Um, and one of the things that they said is that, um, well he doesn’t seem to understand that this technology means that he will be able to say what he wants. And I was always saying, if he’s never had the opportunity to say what he wants, then how could you possibly understand that this random obscure tool is the avenue to that, you know?

Genia:           And so, you know, we, we finally were able to over the years figure some things out and we are not finished on that journey or figuring it out. We don’t have the answers. It’s, you know, that is not where I’m going with this. But of course with the opportunity for him to have the modeling of what this looks like and how this can be used now he understands that this tool can be used to express himself and now he’s doing it. But had we never been able to fight for, and it were, when the fight for access in the first place to give them the opportunity to learn how this works, he never would have been ready and

Emma:            routinely underestimate people. Absolutely. And if you read a book by Eaton Kadar, who was a nonspeaking autistic young man, um, he’s written a book called Edo and autism land. He talks about the frustration of having been run through the abcs over and over and over again. One plus one equals two, because people couldn’t see because of his attack stick and a Brexit body, um, couldn’t see any of what was going on inside for him. And he just talks about how incredibly frustrating that was. He said, I was doing, you know, Algebra in my head, but I couldn’t show anybody.

Genia:           Yeah. Well that, that book and that author, um, is, it’s not an author that I’ve read, but I going to have to look that up. I recently interviewed Temple Grandin and she also was recommending this author as an excellent, um, you know, a really excellent resource. You know, we, the, one of the things that, uh, my son’s school, um, really struggled with. It’s a very academic focus school. Um, you know, they, they’re pretty traditional in, in many ways, in, in their pedagogical approaches. And so they really like tests. And, um, and for the longest time they struggled. Um, we all did. You know, it was really, it was, uh, it was a collective struggle. I’m not blaming the school, but this part was their struggle is how to be not testing and you know, well how can we talk about the next step if we have not established that he understands the first step.

Genia:           And the turning point for for them I think was some influx in resources and leadership for sure that I’m sh had affects that I are not transparent to me but the, but the other thing is that we streamlined the focus and we said okay there are very few focuses, academic focuses. Um, one is communication and the first step in that is modeling and the thing that you are to talk about while you’re modeling communication is the curriculum. And then all of a sudden everything started to work right because they were not focused on the curriculum and finding out what he understood cause they didn’t, the point was the, the test was where they modeling and they understood that they could measure their own modeling. And so that really worked for them. You know, they, they could work within that, that model of, you know, how much modeling are we doing in a day? They could talk about the curriculum because they’re really good teachers and they know their curriculum and then all of a sudden, well was really interested in what was going on and so you know, it, it uh, that that was really the tipping point around around that.

Norm:           Yeah. And I think the whole idea when you look at inclusive education and the fundamental difference between traditional segregated education and inclusive education was that Yeah. some people find it difficult to make the jump. Is that traditional special education is built on the idea that we focus on ability first and then you get opportunity. Inclusive education is based on the idea that you give people opportunities first and those opportunities foster abilities. And that reversal… some people have a very hard time making that switch because…, “ this person doesn’t have the ability! How can we move them forward in ability.” Whereas, in the whole pedagogy of inclusive education we say “no!, it’s precisely that opportunity that fosters ability.”

Genia:           Right? Yeah. And it is a very disability specific lens that that says focus on competency first. Because we don’t generally apply that principle to people’s learning. You know, this podcast is a great example. A few years ago somebody taught me how to create a Facebook account because I had not ever done it cause I didn’t know how and and so they had to help me figure that out. And then you know, with the opportunity to see what Facebook was about. That’s how I learned how to do it. And really that first, you know, you must have a Facebook account if you’re going to run this midwifery practice group was what it was about. That is what really has led to me having the, the ability to be able to run a podcast is that opportunity, you know, over time, over time. So Norm, I’m wondering if you’ve had any personal experiences that really illustrate this.

Norm:            Two really come to mind. The first happened when I was four years old. As I’ve said, I was born with cerebral palsy and up until I was four they had no idea what my cognitive ability was. When I was four years old they were trying to figure out which school system I should go to. In Toronto at that time, they had two completely separate school districts. The Toronto Board of Education school board, and the Metropolitan Toronto School Board which was a completely different school district for kids with intellectual disabilities. So now at that time, the Toronto school board, the deaf school had moved out of the school they were using into bigger school and the Toronto school board got this empty school. And it wasn’t big enough for a regular school so they said let’s do something really innovative and make it a school for kids with physical disabilities who might be able to keep up with the curriculum, a really radical idea in 1962!

Genia:           that was a really radical idea at that time, yeah. Yeah.

Norm:            So the question was do I go into this school and get regular curriculum with the Toronto School Board or do I go to the school for kids with intellectual disabilities in the Metropolitan Toronto district. So they sent me to the psychological-education testers and she gave me the usual Liscard intelligence tests and my mother reports I was bombing them. Because I neither had the language or the fine motor control to do the test. So I was always no response, no response, no response.

Genia:           It’s kind of hard to imagine at this stage in your life. No response coming from you! [Laughing]

Norm:            Ya! And I what happened was, the technologist happened to show me a very faded picture of a voyageur scene paddling down the river with firs and all of that. And she said, “Norman, what do you see?” And I happened to use the word canoe and foggy and her face turned white. And she said Oh, my God because apparently those words were two or three years above my level. So she did something probably got her fired and lost her license if someone found out. She redid the test with me. She said, Norman in any way you can, for example… she laid out a puzzle and put forward four or five pieces. In any way you can, show me which puzzle piece goes there. And I would bend down and point to the right puzzle piece with my nose.

Norm:            And I redid the entire test on the presumption that I knew what to do even though I couldn’t speak it or point to it. But as a result of saying the words canoe and foggy, I got into regular school rather than school for kids with intellectual disabilities. But why that story is important, is that when I get up, give a keynote presentation, write a book or an article. People presume that I’m in this position, I’m in this job, because of my ability. Because he is intelligent, because I have good communication skills, you know, of course that’s what got him in the show! Its not! They help, but reason that I’m here talking to you is that I was incredibly lucky. Had I not said the words canoe and foggy, I would be working maybe in a day program or maybe a minimum wage job. My life Deviated incredibly because I said those two words. For me it’s not only a inspirational story, It’s terrifying story.

Genia:           It really is.

Norm:            Those two words gave me opportunity that then fostered ability.

Genia:           one of the things that sort of a layer on the terrifying piece is um, you know this, this point in time obviously came somewhat into the testing. Yes. And you could have quite reasonably at that age have been re just ready to throw in the towel and said nothing or said boat or some less sophisticated word and just not been invested anymore, which you see all the time when kids undergo these kinds of, these kinds of assessments, which is, I’ll give you a few chances. And if you underestimate me and you just keep telling me that you assume I’m not competent, I’m, I’m, I’m done with you. Yes. Good. Exactly. No more. Exactly to jump through. That’s right. I thank you very much. I’m not going to jump through anymore hoops. I’ve seen it with my, I’ve seen it with my son. Um, I’ve seen it with my, you know, my sister and uh, I remember, um, so your years after your experience, but um, probably, let me think about this.

Genia:           1980s, maybe 1981, 82, my sister was being assessed. Um, and um, there’s, they, they kept handing her a pencil and saying, hold onto this and don’t let me take it out of your hand. And, and she would let it just slip through her fingers. And so they decided that, um, that she, she had no strength and no fine motor skills and you know, no potential in that department. Um, but this was the kid who would drag me around the, the living room by my toes while our dog licked my face. You know, like that, that was our, one of the Games we played as, as really young children. Um, and but, but the testing environment, I mean we’re talking about the testing environment, but this applies so much more broadly. Right. And where are the opportunities and where do people, where do people shine? You know, like what brings out the best in people. And it’s very rarely in activities and tests that are designed to assess, um, and sort of pigeonholed people. Yeah.

Norm:            Mmhmm. I have another story, which is quite funny. Um, All through my segregated schooling I would do three, it’s three days a week of speech therapy for about a half hour each time. And speech therapy, for those two people who don’t know, for me what it consisted of is reading a book in what I call “my speech therapy voice.” [takes deep breath and changes cadence and articulation of voice] And in order to talk in my speech therapy voice, I had to inhale and swallow and articulate. And so I made sure all the words came out clearly and I would talk like this for 30 minutes that I was in the speech therapy class and then when I would leave the speech therapy class [returns to usual voice], I would talk the way I always did because everybody could understand me. So in grade seven I told people that I wanted to go to a regular class in my neighbourhood school and one of the people against it was my speech therapist. And she said, Norman, you’ve made so much progress now! If you quit speech therapy then you’ll never talk clearly and I said, yeah, but what’s the point of talking clearly if I have no friends to talk to? So I went into regular school and within a couple weeks I realized something was going on. Um, when I talked to new teachers or students that I didn’t know, they would listen to me for about five seconds. If they understood me, they kept listening and they didn’t, they would assume my speech was unintelligible and turn off. And smile and nod and say yeah, so what I learned was that this strategy. Is when I met a new person, I would talk to them in my speech therapist voice and when I convinced them that they could understand the way I talked, then I would slowly seduce them into my usual way of talking [laughter] and I did this day in day out day in day out. So after about a year of being in the regular school, I would meet family friends or relatives who hadn’t seen me since I left the segregated school and over and over and over, they would come up and say, Norman! You’re speaking so clearly. What did you do? And I would say, “I quit speech therapy!”. Now I told that story at a speech therapy conference.

Genia:            How’d that go over? [laughing]

Norm:            Not very There was not a great deal of laughter! So what I want to say to any speech therapists out there. What I learned in speech therapy was important. So, don’t worry. Your life still has meaning. The point of that story isn’t that speech therapy was a waste of time. The point was that the segregation took away the opportunity and the motivation for me put that into practice on a daily basis.

Norm:            And Emma and I generally have a rule as to why segregation doesn’t work. And our rule is no matter how good of a swimming instructor you are, you cannot teach someone to swim in the parking lot of a swimming pool. Yeah. And that’s what we’re trying to do when we work on ability outside the context of opportunity. It’s like trying to teach someone to swim without putting them in the water. So those are just some of examples of why we feel so passionately that we have to focus on opportunity first and just trust that ability will follow.

Genia:           and there are many more stories and examples supporting that position in your book. Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic. Um, Emma, so have you only just become aware as an adult that you had autism and being diagnosed?

Emma:            Yeah, it was only as, um, Norman, I, we’re working on a project and, um, I began reading the writing of adult autistic women. And as you probably know, autism is generally seen as a boys’ issue. You know, I mean autism speaks has the blue puzzles, puzzle pieces. Um, and you know, the whole idea that, you know, more boys than girls. Well, what we’re beginning to understand is that girls are vastly underrepresented in the literature and that

Genia:           six surprise. Yeah. Rate Shock, like every area of healthcare and research. Yes. We fly under the radar.

Emma:            And um, for me growing up when I did, I really flew under the radar because autism wasn’t even something that anyone in my community was talking about, grew up in a small community. My parents had no idea about any of this. All that I knew was that the, that school was sensory health for me and that, um, it wasn’t really until I got to school that I understood that I was different than other kids because my family, they were really great. They, they just basically saw me as a bit intense and a bit quirky. But, um, it was all okay, but when I got to school, all the things that my family just kind of smiled at and found ways around for me were suddenly transformed into moral failings. Right. Interesting. Yeah. And um, it wasn’t until later that I understood those in the context of a diagnosis.

Emma:            Sometimes people will say to me, why do you want a diagnosis? You know, we’ve worked so hard to get rid of labels for disabled people. Well, I’m here to say I’m not sure I would’ve wanted one as a child because I see the kind of rigorous programs that kids are put on, autistic kids are put on and I’m not sure I would have done very well with those. But what I do know is that as an adult it’s been incredibly liberating. I’ve been able to reclaim my childhood and reclaim the things that I also came to seeing. Cause ableism is a thing, right? It gets internalized. And so we begin to see ourselves, the way people describe our us. Lucky me, I was always very verbal as are many autistic women. And, um, so you can, you can kind of pass under the radar. You can survive school.

Emma:            I did not survive it and I wound up leaving school at age 15. Demoralized, angry, upset, eventually cobbled together and adequate education. Despite all of this, I’m in my master’s program. They kind of liked the way I learned my circuitous kind of learning trajectory. But in, in regular school I was seen as lazy. Um, I had that familiar litany of, of teacher dissatisfaction could do better, must try harder, should pay attention. I was a kid in the back hanging on by my fingernails to cope in an environment that was a sensory nightmare for me. So as an adult, um, it was only when I began to read those writings that I began to understand myself as autistic. And it’s really interesting because in the years since then I have done presentations and I cannot tell you how often I have had women come up to me with their Mascara running down their faces and saying, you’re describing me. And so I know that there are many, many of us out there and girls again, you know, even now are not diagnosed or not noticed and they’re, the issues that we face are often seen again as moral failings.

Emma:            So in that context, should I keep going or do you want to know? Sure. In that context, what I would really like to say about this whole discussion is that, um, I absolutely agree with norm that opportunity must precede ability, but opportunity on its own isn’t enough. People need support. Right. And I could have used some support, you know, well, when I say that I, I’m kind of glad I flew under the radar and didn’t have, you know, 40 hours of ABA every week. Um, I also understand that there would have been some things that would have been helpful for me. We have a friend named bill page and bill is a long time educator, 45 years of, of education work. And he says it like this. He says in our roles as okay, bill says, never give swimming lessons when someone is drowning. Had the pool of love.

Emma:            That metaphor isn’t that love that I think about it as red light, green light stuff. But yeah, that’s better. That’s better. Yeah. He’s so eloquent about this. And he says, you know, our role as teachers or as parents even we have two roles. We have the rule of the lifeguard and we have the role of the swimming instructor, right? Both are necessary. We get into trouble when we mix them up. And for me, um, norm was never given opportunity in the segregated school or not as much as he could have been given. I had all the opportunity you could ever have wanted, but I was in the deep end of the pool drowning because it was too much for me. So it would not, and it did not help at all for teachers to stand on the edge of the pool and say, now kick your legs.

Emma:            You know, use your arms. Try harder to do this, try harder. What makes sense is to understand that those moments when kids are drowning or not the moments to be the swimming instructor, those are the moments where you’re the lifeguard. You get into the water with the kid, you, you shore them up, you bring them to safety, to solid ground and um, you help them to decompress from that. And then later on, and maybe much later on, there will be an opportunity to talk about what we might do differently. The mistake that a lot of teachers and others make is as soon as you’re out of the water, even if you’ve tried to be the good lifeguard, as soon as you’re out of the water, people are saying, well, you know, that was really inappropriate. Or you could do that differently. And then people wonder why that person or the kid or the lifeguard, the lifeguards saying that the lifeguard is saying, saying that. Yeah. And the kid re, right? Yeah. Because we know that when you’re upset, your body is flooded with all kinds of stress hormones, cortisol and all kinds of other hormones. And that doesn’t leave your system right away. So we need to give people time and space before we start suggesting what else they might try.

Genia:           It’s very funny. This, this is not funny. What you’re saying is not funny. But what I’m thinking about is that I have a rule, my, my husband and I have a rule in our marriage and that it is that we are never allowed to tell each other to relax. So what’s making me smile is like, this is not just good advice for inclusive education. It’s also excellent marital advice, you know, or tell someone to call them down. Never tell somebody to calm down or pull it together or like expect or tell them that

Genia:           the fact that they’re struggling is a problem and that they should change it like that.

Emma:            Yeah, I, I’ve just written a book about deescalation and I interviewed hostage negotiators from all over North America and they said the same thing. There are some things never to do. Don’t tell a person to calm down, don’t tell the person, but those are the rules or any of those things. You know, that those are our triggers and you’ll just catapult the person back into upset mode. Yeah. Which really is ineffective. [inaudible] among others.

Genia:           I quit high school as well. I was a little bit older than you. Um, and uh, when I, when I quit. But all of that, you know, all of those same responses, um, ultimately led to me quitting school and cobbling together, you know, the end of my high school education before I could get into more self directed of more self directed environment. Yeah, yeah.

Norm:            yeah. If you think of it, the idea of ‘don’t give swimming lessons when someone is drowning and the need to decide do I need to be a life guard or a swimming instructor. That is a really good idea for couples! When the other person is annoying you, to stop and think, do I need to be a life guard or an instructor. And as a parent…

Emma:            You’re often the life guard for me!

Genia:           or a direct support person, that applies in so many, well probably most interpersonal interactions.

Emma:            Yes. Know what’s funny is that when people see Norman me together, um, they automatically assume because dorm has a physical disability that I must do much more of the support stuff. What they don’t understand is that Nora supports me as much or more than I support him in a hundred different ways. And, but those are the things that people can’t immediately see. And norm

Emma:            is my, is my safe space. We often talk about the relationship is, you know, that, that if you’ve watched Mary Poppins, you know the uncle who floats up to the ceiling when he’s laughing. Yeah, that’s vaguely God. He’s floating up to the ceiling and Mary Poppins grabs him by the ankle ever. So gently and chest pulls him back to the ground. Norm does that for me all the time. Yeah. Yeah.

Norm:            And then there was one time, we think you have this tendency, to take this idea and apply it to young kids. But our son was between high school and university and living with us. He had moved out and moved back in and we were crammed in but making it work. He had his own computer. And I said, you should save all your data on a different partition so that if it crashes… On he said, oh, no. I don’t get viruses. Um, he’s pretty computer savvy. But Evan, you’re near taking the risks! Well, two months later he comes out screaming, Norman, I got the blue screen of death! And every iota in me wanted to say, “I told you so!”

Genia:           yeah. It’s such a great analogy. It’s such a great analogy or metaphor. Yeah. Um, so I just, I mean, you both offered so much, but I, I want to ask, uh, one more question to wrap things up. And the question is, um, why should parents be confident that making the choice of an inclusive education is, is in their child’s best interest? And I don’t just mean like not the rationale for inclusive education, but why should parents feel positive and confident that this is the right thing to do and that they can move forward with that sort of assured heart?

Norm:            Well, my first thing would be before you look at why you should be confident about inclusive education [chuckles], a preliminary question is have you seen any successful outcomes with segregated education?

Genia:           You mean other than whats on the brochure!

Norm:            When was the last time you saw someone with a disability with a meaningful well paid job that came out of the segregated environment.

Emma:            Segregation is the gift that keeps on giving. And what we know from the research and from everything else is that if you are segregated as a child, you, the likelihood of you being segregated for the rest of your life is there. And then the, the really, the frightening thing I think for parents is that then you can expect to only be around people who are paid to be with you. And I think most of us would say that’s not the kind of life we would want for ourselves or for our children. And yeah, it’s going to be work. And Yeah, you gotta be in there and you gotta be participating. Cause if you’re not, um, you know, if what we like to say is that, um, inclusive education without support for teachers, for parents, for students is basically dumping hope. So, you know, it’s not really inclusive.

Emma:            It’s not really inclusive education. Yeah. So, you know, what we’ve said over and over again is that we believe that opportunity plus support equals ability. And that’s what allows your, your life to go on. And the other thing that we’ve often said is innovation delivers what rehabilitation promises. So if, if parents can be innovative and think about different ways of doing things and advocate with and for their children. And I say with very deliberately with their children because one of the things that you’ve said norm often is that the biggest gift someone can give a disabled child is help that person learn to advocate for themselves.

Norm:            And then especially initiate the support that you need. Yeah. You know, the one skill that has enabled me to see succeed in school and in the community in general is my ability to go to teachers or employers and say, I can do this but I need, this, this and this and so, so and you don’t get that skill in a segregated environment. Because, everything is done for you. So there is nothing to ask for. And b), everyone is doing things for you because that’s their job. That’s their reason to live. In it’s a real school, in a real job that people need to take the initiative. So to go back to your question, why should you feel confident that inclusive education is the right decision? That is the second question. The first question, is can you really expect your child to have a happy, enjoyable, fulfilled life with friends having spent all their lives in segregated education? And then, if you look around and say well it’s obvious and you’ll know that with a segregated environment they’ll live in a group home and work in a day program or a sheltered workshop. And you’re next question is, is that all I think that my son or daughter is capable of? And if he or she is, if we have a dream of that person living on their own, having friends, possibly getting married, possibly getting some creatively customized job where they can find meaning in their lives.. Which route do you think has the best chandce of getting there?

Emma:            Can I add something at the end? Like sometimes when we talk about this, people interpret that as then people with disabilities should never hang around with other people with disabilities because you’ll be devalued that way. That is not what we’re saying. In fact, what we really are trying to say is that we need to be upfront with our kids about their disabilities and not shy away from it. We know people who have never told their children like one. There was a keynote speaker a number of years ago who talked with great pride about the fact that her eight year old son with down syndrome did not know he had down syndrome. Well, I’ll bet you he did. And if we don’t tell kids, and we don’t deal with learning to advocate, learning to deal with bullying, learning to deal with all of those things, if we don’t help kids do that, we leave them vulnerable.

Emma:            Because trust me, if you’re not going to tell your kid that they have a disability, uh, does the schoolyard bully will have no compunction about letting your kid know that they’re different. And also that there is solidarity in, um, being with people who have a shared experience. But another chapter in our book, if I may shamelessly self-promote too, is that there is a difference between and segregation that is not widely understood. Solidarity is being around people who have the same goals as you do and who share a common language. Segregation is when rather than gathering together, you are gathered together on somebody else’s timeline and with somebody else’s agenda. So there’s a, um, a movement, uh, that Lawrence Carter long from the u s as as put forward and it’s a hashtag movement called disability. Say the word. Why are we afraid to say the word disability out loud? We need to be able to inoculate our kids against what the able isn’t that they will find in society and help them learn to advocate for themselves and initiate the support they need. We’re passionate about that. Yeah.

Genia:           Yeah, I agree with you. Well thank you both very, very much. This has been excellent. Really, really powerful. Again, the name of Norman Emma’s book is being realistic, isn’t realistic and I will put links to where you can buy that book in the show notes. Um, Emma and norm and I were talking about potentially doing a live online event together. So I’m, if that comes to pass then that will also be in the show notes, links to that. And if you are looking for more information or other materials from Emma and norm, um, I mean, I know where people can find you, but maybe I’ll turn this back over to the two of you. To talk about where people can contact you or find out more information about what you offer.

Norm:            Well, absolutely. We would say broadreachtraining.com, is sort of your first point to learn more. Both the presentations are ready, em, how to get in touch with us.

Genia:           Excellent. All right. Well make sure that the link is in the show notes. Thank you both very, very much.

Emma:            Yeah! Its been fun!

Genia:           Wasn’t that great? I had SO much fun talking with Emma and Norm! My takeaways are that we need to looking for answers in the right places. That we can’t teach someone to swim in the parking lot of the pool. And that we need to always be asking ourselves whether the students in our lives need a life guard or a swim instructor in this moment. Norm and Emma and I are excited to offer more opportunities to dive deeper into these ideas. You have two opportunities. You can win an autographed copy of Emma and Norm’s new book, Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic. All you need to do is share this episode on your social media with an example of something that you can’t learn without first having the opportunity to get some experience. Share it on your personal Facebook and Instagram pages, and your groups. You can use the link goodthingsinlife.org/037 or you can find the Good Things in Life posts on Facebook and Instagram and share those. Tag mention goodthingsinlife and add the hash tage beingrealisticisntrealistic. The deadline is Monday September 9th. You will receive a ballot for each time and place that you share an example. Ok. The other opportunity is an upcoming free, live online presentation on September 24th with Norm and Emma. This presentation is part of a series of live online events about inclusive education. You can register for that event by going to goodthingsinlife.org/events.

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Special thanks to Emma Van der Klift and Norm Kunc for joining me this week. Until next time!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.