Inclusive Education is not enough

Most disability activists support the idea of inclusive education in principle, but I would question how sincere they are. If activists, often with a pro-welfare bias are calling for many adults with impairments to be deemed naturally unable to work, what is the message being given to young people about their prospects? Why provide people with a proper education if it is simply not intended to be used?

I believe that if we wish young people with impairments to be empowered to break through the stereotypical expectations placed upon them by society, including many activists, then inclusive education, even if it is properly implemented, is not enough. We should rather be talking about providing young people with impairments an inclusive childhood.

By this, I mean that formal education is only a part of their development any child needs to be a fully rounded adult. Other parts of a healthy and positive childhood include after school activities, participation in immediate and extended family activities, having friends of the same age, the appropriate uptake of responsibilities within a family setting, opportunities to travel with family and others, and much more.

The point is that a child with impairments should have the same opportunities as a child without impairments. It is also, more importantly, enabling them to develop into adults with genuine autonomy who have not fallen into the conveyor belt of passivity and victimhood.

The later seems still to be so true, especially for people with significant impairments and/or learning difficulties. Two decades ago I was too often the only person with a significant impairment at meetings and conferences, especially one so outspoken. I knew I was ahead of my time, but I assumed I was the start of a new generation.

But in 2016, I am not seeing many people following my footsteps whether as activists or people who are proactive in their field of work. It appears the case that the opportunities to be more included in society as made their life feel safe and enabled them to be passive. These possibilities are also still controlled by non-impaired professionals unwilling to let go of the social and economic power they have over people with impairments.

A key outcome of any inclusive childhood will be the opportunity to experience emotional upset from the meaningful interaction with their non-impaired peers, as well as the chance to be naughty. These are the activities that will generate creativity and passion, combating blind obedience to social norms.

Inclusion is on the agenda although it needs to share the platform with welfare, which has taken centre stage since 2010. I am however concerned that because the deep-rooted prejudices towards the inclusion of people with impairments in society as people able to make a meaningful contribution, which is made acceptable in the name of dignity and compassion, real inclusion is unlikely to be achieved without a significant shift in thinking.

While many adults with impairments may be permanently stuck in a medical model desire to stay as passive victims, which has been fetishised by the often ignorant media, we can offer children with impairments the chance to break free from these chains.

We Must Expect More From Disabled People

I think one of my biggest frustrations with society in terms of disability is the naturally low expectations the public has for what disabled people can and indeed should achieve. While everyone talks about the equality of disabled people, the reality is we are perceived as inferior beings, less capable of achieving what most people want in life. I am often asked about aspects of my life, like if I like to go out, as if I was a child, and these are by my non-disabled professional peers who apparently know I am their equal.

An example of what I am talking about is the recent news about the supposed plight of James Sleight, a young man with Downs Syndrome, who went to a mainstream school, and is apparently being evicted from ‘his home’. His home is in reality, from what I can understand, a residential group home, a care service he is not a tenant of, where the one achievement that has been highlighted is the fact he lives with a flatmate of his age, who will be another service user who neither of them would have had a choice over. And now because his family are upset, we must all sign their petition to keep him in a service that we do not even know he is happy about. The media seems not to be interested in his quality of life, his aspirations or his goals, but just what his family wants. The most shocking comment I read was in The Independent, which implied he was too stupid to know who David Cameron was, despite wanting to meet him, or was that his family?

I have personally fought all my life to explain that despite having cerebral palsy and needing support from a personal assistant with everything I do, I lead as normal of a life as anyone can and in whatever normality is. I have the same level of choice as anyone else, which means I have the same level of responsibility as anyone else. Despite all the wonderful images of independent living promoted by the social care sector, it does not mean I have free choice, because no one has that. I can only go to the theatre if I can afford the tickets, have the time to go and so on.

The biggest mistake many social workers and other professionals make with me is when they tell me I can do anything I want within a service, since the reality is they have specific and low expectations of what I will want to do, and therefore they will be horrified when I actually do something they was neither expecting or willing to let happen. Professionals assume for disabled people, ‘going out’ means something like having a cup of coffee in town, but for me it means going whitewater rafting or seeing a musical in London.

Why must we assume disabled people expectations are limited and indeed good. When I lecture social work students, I like to challenge them to see how far they are willing to accept the true lifestyles of disabled people, even if that includes being a gangster. We will not have achieved true equality for disabled people until we can see them inspiring to achieve in all aspects of life, even if it is as a criminal. People must imagine what disabled people could achieve, and then take it a step further, and still further, until we can truly see disabled people as having the opportunity to do absolutely anything.

Unfortunately right now, this kind of equality is not on the agenda, as the 2010s will sadly be remembered as a period where the portrayal of disabled people as incapable inferior beings was strong and the damage that this was doing, in the name of fairness, was high. The fashionable hatred of ATOS is being used to justify the systematic prejudice of disabled people, often by disabled people themselves, in the same way racists use the fear of immigration to justify their prejudices.

Until we can see all disabled people as bundles of potential and assume with the right assistance and support, they can achieve or not achieve in the same way as anyone else, we should stop pretending that a fair society, in terms of looking after people deemed to be too weak to be considered full citizens, as anything to do with true equality and equal opportunities, as to achieve that, we must demand the most of everyone.

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

What Does Disability Mean Anyway?

In 1999 I started a MA in Disability Studies in Sheffield that I gave up after a year because it was bias towards psychoanalysis, something I really could not get my head around. I however gained a lot from the experience and the first lesson I learnt was that within disability, there are two basic but unanswerable questions. These are what is disability? And how many people are disabled?

To the average person these may look easy questions but as soon as you examine them properly, you realise they are impossible to answer. Disability is a socially constructed concept, like many things we assume to be the norm, and what is interesting is how many different definitions of disability exist. If we ignore other countries and just focus on the UK, and even than just on legal definitions of disability, we can still find quite a number. How disability is defined in the equality act is different to that to qualify for DLA/PIP, which is different to qualify for ESA, social care and even educational support. The definitions of disability are contradictory, incompatible and confusing in trying to understand what assistance someone may apply for.

But all these definitions are based on one of two models of disability, which are the medical model and social model, as defined by disabled people themselves. The medical model was born out of the industrial revolution and sees disability as a medical problem, where a person’s “deficiencies” is the focus of attention, that needs curing or removing since a disabled person is an inferior being that has no meaningful place in society. Over a century ago, this way of thinking saw the creation of special schools and residential institutions that are still to some degree with us today. Most people would like to believe we have moved on from the medical model but I am not sure this is actually the case and in fact worry that in recent years, the medical model has been widely adopted by many supposed disability activists.

In the 1970s, a group of disabled people got tired of the negative portrayal of themselves as bundles of medical problems and created another way of looking at disability. They firstly divided the biological side of the issue, impairment, from the social side, disability. So the social model acknowledges biological differences, impairment, as a matter of fact, eg I have cerebral palsy and this is just the way it is. But the model argues that disability is the social barriers that people with impairments face that as physical access, poor attitudes, lack of personal support and so on. It is a model that has been widely adopted by most disability activists, charities and others internationally, and has been central to much social policy since the 1990s.

As someone who has grown up with the social model and for the most part, lived the social model, I have made my own observations and interpretations. Firstly, I think it is becoming increasingly accepted that everyone has impairments in one way or another, and more importantly that not everyone who has some kind of impairment experiences disability, which is social barriers. Impairments need to be managed, as a fact of life, and the personal experiences of impairment, however difficult, may not bring disability. I feel this is a concept people are just starting to acknowledge and trying to understand.

Secondly, I personally regard disability to be a state that changes from minute to minute like the concept of being vulnerable. My core identity is my impairment and I see disability as external to myself. I am only disabled by many specific situations, which can be removed by improved access, improved attitudes, personal support and so on. I am therefore not often disabled at home because my environment is set up for me. When I go somewhere new, they may be more barriers and therefore I would be disabled. On this basis, I see the role of government is to remove these barriers and so reducing the number of people with impairments who experience disability. It is however difficult for many people with impairments to relinquish their disability status.

Finally, I see the social model as removing the barriers that are in the way of disabled people taking up their responsibilities as opposed as being about rights as citizenship is a balance of rights and responsibilities. As this dawns on people now many barriers are been undoubtedly removed over the last 20 years, there are continuous moves by some people to discredit the model, saying it is ‘old hat’ or arguing a range of excuses why it does not include them. This makes me wonder why disabled people fought for the equality they now have when this is not what they really wanted?

Disability is a concept that is far more complex than people would ever imagine and this article has only provided you with a brief insight into the issue that has more questions than answers.

Mainstream Education Is So Important for Disabled Children

For over a century the majority of disabled children have been educated in special schools, excluded from their non-disabled peers. It is only in the last 30 years that this has started to change as more disabled children have been increasingly been given the right to a mainstream education as this form of apartheid is slowly exposed and removed.

I think before going further, it is important to understand my own education journey as someone with cerebral palsy. I was born in 1974 and my first school was the children’s ward of the local mental hospital before it became its own school for the ‘mentally handicapped’, opened and named after the Queen. They quickly realised I was rather intelligent and I was briefly integrated into my local village school at 5, with mixed success. After spending a few years at a mainstream school with a ‘physically handicapped unit’, I was fully integrated at 11 at my local all boys mainstream school, where I received a proper education although I was constantly bullied. Then I attended the local mainstream sixth form college doing my A-Levels before doing my degree at Coventry University.

I strongly believe in mainstream education because of the right of non-disabled and disabled children to be educated together. I can quickly tell those disabled adults who have attended mainstream schools, as opposed to special schools, simply by their posture. Mainstream schools provide disabled children with the same expectations to succeed as their peers, the social skills needed to compete in an non-disabled world which special schools fail to do, and toughens disabled children up for the real world, not to say anyone deserves to be bullied.

My belief in mainstream education does not mean I do not believe in special education because I do strongly believe that everyone should get the specific education they need. I believe the criticisms against mainstream education by parents and others is because many children are integrated into their schools rather than included. Integration is when the child is required to simply fit in with the school and no consideration of their needs are taken into account. This is not proper inclusion, where the school reasonably adapts its policies, practices and teaching methods to accommodate the specific needs of the child. There is always going to be some middle ground where the child must learnt how to adapt to the school in the same way they will need to adapt to other situations throughout their life to succeed.

My concern with the government is that they have turned the issue into a matter of parental choice, where parents of disabled children should have the right to choose a special or mainstream school, arguing they wish to end the ‘bias towards inclusion’. This standpoint assumes in this instance as opposed to any other, parents are suitably experienced to make decisions that would determine whether or not their child will have any opportunity to be properly included into society.

It is my belief that currently the special schools ‘market’ is dominated by third sector providers where the aim of the school is to simply prepare children for adult day services that are also dominated by the third sector. If a child is inappropriately labelled as having learning difficulties at an early age and then denied a proper education because of that label, they will become adults where it will be hard to determine whether they have learning difficulties because of an impairment or from the fact they have not received a proper education.

Special schools are ‘sold’ to parents based on promises and exploiting the parents’ fears of how their disabled child will cope in the real world. Like everything, special education has been ruled by fashion and trends over the years, rather than anything else. The policy of free schools, allowing parents and others to set up their own special schools on any ideology they choose, is a further step into this consumerism ‘fad’ culture where the parents wants come before the needs of the child.

The segregation of disabled children from mainstream education for over a century has caused immense damage to the fabric of society that can only be mended when all disabled children are fully included into mainstream education as standard policy, not just as a right but as a norm. At the same time, the education system must be responsive of the individual needs of children, disabled or not. Proper inclusion into mainstream schools must be the only ‘choice’ desired by everyone, for the benefit of everyone.

Changing the Conversation on Disability

The politics of disability used to be about achieving equality and inclusion as contributing citizens but in 2010 the welfare reforms changed everything. The charities, supported by a whole host of new generation sick and disabled activists have ripped up the equality agenda and replaced it with a list of demands that see disabled people as naturally inferior beings unable to work, who need benefits, pity and cold hard cash to be swept under the carpet rather than included in society.

The current disability conversation is destructive and hostile, and for any future (Labour) government to get an handle on this hysteria over benefits, WCA and ATOS by disabled people and the charities exploiting the situation, they must change the conversation. Firstly, they must eliminate the notion of being unfit for work, which has enabled the pity seekers to get massive attention. I would therefore propose that they scrap WCA, which I have believed for some time without pressure from anyone else.

My suggestion is not because it has failed to define who is notionally fit or unfit, but because it is an unworkable notion as everyone has human potential and can with the right support at some point make some level of meaningful contribution, which is not saying everyone can work 9 to 5. The process has also failed miserably in recognising and supporting the emotional journey of coming to terms of newly acquired impairments and preparing to make a contribution to society.

At the same time, I would scrap DLA, PIP, Direct Payments, Personal Budgets, Access to Work and others monies paid to disabled people and/or carers, and replace them with one single outcome focused need led individual payment covering everything a disabled person requires in terms of additional costs, assuming the use of Universal Credits for household income. I strongly believe disabled people should get exactly what they need when they need it to become contributing citizens.

To implement this properly, it needs to be assessed in a new way and therefore while I intend to work with ATOS to improve the immediate situation, I would scrap the big assessments contracts given to ATOS and others. I would replace them with locally commissioned small specialist interdisciplinary teams, which are matched to people’s specific needs at given times. These teams will be more responsive and will use discussion rather then formal assessment to meet people’s specific individual needs.

This new system would not be interested in medical labels and will take people at face value, looking instead at what is their exact additional needs at that time because of their impairments based on their outcomes, what they intend to do, in terms of work, education, raising a family or fulfil other important roles. The pressure to prove difficulty will be removed and it is then about explaining precisely what they need because of their difficulties.

I feel if these suggestions were properly implemented that it would quickly move the conversation on disability back to equality and inclusion, where the role of the state is to enable and empower individuals to reach their full potential. It will support so many sick and disabled people currently trapped in the grieving process of coming to terms with their situation, and enable them to complete their emotional journey in a less stressful relationship with the state. By meeting exact individual need when it is needed, it will avoid label based compensation where a fixed amount creates winners and losers. Since many sick people may have no additional needs to what is provided already to them, it puts the onus on them to prove what exactly they need which they would then easily receive.

I feel this is how the next Labour government will go, simply to diffuse the situation, as well as moving away from a dependency culture and allow disabled people to be regarded as equal citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else. I feel it will be very hard for charities and activists to argue against this way of thinking without revealing their true intentions of keeping disabled people dependent. The conversation of disability must change and I feel my ideas represent a good first stab in trying to do this.

Why do we bother educating disabled people?


Many disabled people with live long conditions consider themselves unable or unfit for work and can be assessed and tested accordingly, currently writing them off as able of make any contribution to society. So why do we not go a step further and use ATOS to assess people to see if they were worthy of an education if they will never be able to work? Using this logic, it means fair not to waste money educating people who will not benefit from it!


It is interesting of the disabled people who are capable of going to university and work hard to get a degree, and are then supposedly unable to work for one and other excuses! Why did society bother wasting money of providing a higher education to people who never really intended to use it. It is these double standards that really reveals how much disabled can or can not work! 


I believe every disabled person should in reality have an education because I believe in one way or other, the majority of disabled people can work.


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email  


I worry about Free Schools


From what I understand, Free School, has been set up as social experiments that can provide any education they decision since they do not need to follow the national curriculum or are inspected by OFSTED. The scheme allows parents, charities and companies to have government funding and red carpet treatment to build schools based on what parents want and maybe not what children need.


I worry free schools are a back door for a new generation of so-called special schools which not only excludes disabled children but enables professionals and parents to do whatever they want including the latest fashion in treatment which could be seen as torture deemed legal since its medical treatment in the ‘best interests’ of the child.


I fear it will be years for my understanding the damage free schools are doing to children and society.


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email  


Should we write disabled people off?


On Thursday I attended the Disability Confident confidence and I was stuck by what Iain Duncan Smith said about how the benefit system fails many disabled people, regarding them as unable to work, and this was the crime, not the fact people are being declared fit when society is happy to accept an individual’s believe that they are unfit or desire to remain unfit.


Ignoring the politics for one moment, I feel we must accept change the deep rooted assumption disabled people, and those with many long term health conditions, are naturally unable to work and therefore dependent on benefits. It should be seen as bad that people are being denied access of education, training or employment opportunities or given the ability to make a contribution to society to the best of their abilities and talents. It is an attitudinal and cultural shift as opposed to people taking shops, especially when companies are creating special jobs around disabled people to make themselves look good. We are a long way off meaningful employment of many organisations.


We should never write disabled people off and understand how their campaigning often does this.


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email  


What could meaningful contribution look like?

I talk all the time about meaningful contribution to society but what do I mean and what could it look like? It is very clear I do not just mean employment but a much wider concept where it is about the effort someone puts in rather than the attainment.

So it could also include education, employment, training, raising a family and just writing a blog or making some else smile. It is about understanding a person’s own situation and ensure they have a willingness to contribute to the best of their ability as opposed to the negative attitude of “can’t” we see with many sick and disabled people as well as a whole range of other people.

I believe making a meaningful contribution can instil pride and good mental wellbeing giving benefit to everyone. I would therefore challenge anyone to tell me I am wrong to believe anyone can make a meaningful contribution.

If you like what I say, have a look at my website at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

Education for all

I believe fundamentally that everyone should get a proper education. I am however sure many disabled children in special schools are not receiving the education they deserve especially as it is hard to prove whether the schools supports  academically and social weak adults or rather they  create them.

My argument against special schools is it failed to teach children the informal education which can only come from mixing with your peers like social skills and inter-personal skills. It is so easy to spot someone who has gone to a special school, simply from their body language, as well as their low aspirations.

The key argument for special schools at the moment is ‘bullying’ which firstly assumed disabled children are unable to bully each other, and there goes a flying pig! Bullying is wrong but it is a part of growing up. I was bullied at school constantly and the so-called adults handled it badly, added fuel to the flames rather than trying to assist others in understanding my perspective.

The government is totally wrong to promote special schools over inclusion and I hope at some point society will understand the damage special schools do.