Open society – also for the disabled?
Inclusive education, teaching for diversity
and diversity toward persons with disabilities in the Czech Republic
The word diversity means variedness, or simply difference. Diversity is most frequently mentioned in terms of biological diversity, when talking about the number of species (plants or animals). As for diversity in society, we define it as a principle that allows all people, regardless of their individual differences, to develop their full personal potential (i.e. diversity as a “ societal goal”, not as a term describing reality.)
Diversity is understood as the fulfillment of the principles of equal opportunities for various groups of minorities in society. The establishment of a minority as the result of a certain difference does not mean discrimination, rather the opportunity for full expression both in the labor force and in local communities.
Not equal opportunity
The principles of diversity are often confused with equal opportunity, but whereas equal opportunity has legislative framework and is legally enforceable within it, the principles of diversity can only be implemented on the basis of conscientious volunteer activity.
Applying the principles of diversity in society means that society attempts to adopt, maintain, support and sustain the development of individuals from various minorities, and to contribute to the enrichment of the majority thanks to the diversity of members of these minorities. The principles of diversity can be applied to all minorities.
Respecting minorities means that whatever differences to the norm they have are not used to discriminate against them, even in a positive way. Conversely, the mutual impact and networking (blending) of minorities and the majority creates synergetic effects both in the acceptance of minorities by the majority and in their interaction in the labor force and civic communities.
We can speak of these types of diversity:
- ethnic diversity, which defines the characteristics of ethnic groups, their division into minorities and majorities – in relation to the nation-state, neighboring countries and the European Union;
- religious diversity, which defines the differences between faiths, religions and the Church, and their influence on the interpretation of the world, including the characteristics of majority and minority religions in the Czech Republic;
- diversity for the disabled, which identifies forms of disability, their representation in the Czech majority, including defining the principles of proper communication by the majority with people with disabilities, which respects the special needs of disabled people resulting from the presence of their disability;
- age diversity, which defines the age structure of the society according to calendar age and the quality of life at different stages, including determining the characteristics of the various stages of human life and the definition and classification of the seniors minority (+ 65);
- gender and sex diversity, which defines the difference between biological sex and gender (characteristics assigned by society), including the differences between the majority heterosexual and minority homosexual orientation.
The above classification of diversity is only an aid for understanding that diversity has various forms, and in practice individual types of diversity commonly appear in parallel to each other.
The disabled in Czech Republic
The largest minority in the Czech Republic are people with disabilities (1,015,000 people). Registered Disabled Persons (RDP) are also the largest minority that runs the risk of social exclusion and disadvantages in the labor market.
Registered disabled persons face a variety of problems in contact with other members of society. At the core, their needs are completely identical with the needs of able-bodied people, i.e. managing everything necessary for a full life while maintaining a dignified position on the principle of partnership.
The position of people with disabilities is often aggravated by the fact that disability is, by habit, viewed predominantly (and especially) as synonymous with “absolute dependence, helplessness,” or even “inability”. This is often a reflection of the approach and attitude of the general public.
The fundamental problem of communication with disabled people is not about whether to approach them the same way as with other people. Different types of disability require a specific approach, which must take into account the needs and abilities of disabled citizens while at the same time respecting their human dignity.
Usually the general public knows very little or nothing at all about the principles and techniques of communication with these citizens. Barriers exist on both sides that prevent any breakthrough. In an unfamiliar environment a disabled person tends to shy away from saying he or she needs something different.
Other people in the majority then do not know how to ask or respond to the specific needs of people with disabilities. A basis for a diverse approach and for a healthy conduct of the majority towards disabled people is knowledge: Knowledge of both the procedures for implementing diversity and the principles of proper communication with this community.
Because RDP is not a homogenous group, rather than classified according to the specifics of individual types and degrees of disability, it is necessary to develop, for each of the chosen RDP groups, individual sets of principles of proper (correct) communication.
In practice, this means that members of the majority should be given an overview of the general characteristics of the disability in question, its etiology, both psychologically and in terms of special education. It is important to go through practical training skills linked to the provision of universal assistance among people with regard to the specificity of the disability and to acquire the communication skills necessary to work with such a group.
In other words, members of mainstream society should know what the nature of a given disability is and how it originated, how they should behave towards the disabled, how to approach them, how to offer them assistance and how not to offer them assistance. Also, what basically not to ask them, how to touch them and when and where. Conversely people should know where and how basically not to touch a disabled person, and to know basic information about their culture, about the humor of particular RDP groups, and so forth.
The application of diversity behavior in practice will ensure that the majority understands that disability does not necessarily mean the inability to successfully assert oneself in one’s personal and professional life.
Being familiar with all of the principles of inclusion of disabled people mentioned in this article, accepting them as our own, and using them in everyday life means that we have embraced diversity towards disabled people. In effect, our knowledge, skills, attitudes and values respect the RDP minority as an equal part of mainstream society.
Standards of communication
Achieving the state where all people with disabilities can achieve their potential requires the creation of diversity communication standards with each RDP group. These standards (best practices) of communication consist of:
- the principles of proper communication with people with physical disabilities, people with visual impairment, and people with hearing impairment and
- model situations clearly showing the basic mistakes committed by mainstream society when communicating with each RDP group.
Successful personal life stories of people with disabilities can also help in the attainment of diversity communication standards in the form of motivational documentaries.
What is needed are RDP diversity qualifications. These are not “degrees”, but favourable traits embedded as part of framework educational programs for different types of schools. RDP diversity qualifications involve existing social and personnel qualifications, as well as civic and cultural awareness qualifications. Those members of mainstream society who have mastered given theoretical and practical principles during their education at elementary school and high school are then also given the foundations for RDP diversity qualifications.
Practical solution: “Teaching for Diversity”
Content of the project
Enter “Teaching for Diversity”, a learning aid prepared by a team of authors and pilot schools.
This multimedia aid is directed at school pupils and teachers at the second level of elementary schools(age 11- 15) as well as at school pupils and teachers of grammar and secondary schools(age 16 – 19). The aid was created as part of the Czech Operational Program Education for Competitiveness, titled “Teaching for Diversity as Part of Multicultural Education” and has been tested in the classroom at different types of schools.
The partners in the project consist of 20 institutions: one university, one research institute in the education field, four umbrella organizations for people with different types of disabilities, thirteen pilot schools and beneficiaries. Together they created this learning aid with significant potential for innovation.
The learning aid consists of the following parts with the movie footage naturally missing from the printed version.
In addition to clearly structured instructional material, the electronic version contains:
- 80 illustrative videos for the chapters on the principles of proper communication and providing assistance to persons with hearing, visual and physical disabilities
- 30 videos dealing with model situations, where the members of able-bodied society and people with disabilities can come into contact with each other
- 12 short documentary films – real stories of people with disabilities. These stories show the problems disabled people encounter and must overcome in everyday life. The outcome of these stories is an example of overcoming these problems and the successful integration of the players into ordinary life.
- 1 instructional video from the model workshop of drama education.
A printed version has also been prepared with the electronic version (DVD-ROM). Which form of learning to use depends on the choice and approach of the teacher. It is possible and beneficial to use and combine both forms.
Advantages of an electronic learning tool are manifold in this context:
- interactive approach to the issue;
- variability of the teaching materials;
- interconnection of individual parts;
- quick and easy availability of individual parts;
- motivation of students related to the use of ICT in education;
- videos interwoven with the relevant part of the text.
It is clear from the preceding list of individual parts of the learning aid that a significant portion of the electronic version of the learning aid “Teaching for Diversity” includes extensive footage with an overall time of more than 3 hours.
It was said that whatever remains in a person’s head after attending school remains with him for most of the rest of his life. The details might fade over time, but the basic understanding of the topic remains.
If the “Teaching for Diversity” project is able to give teachers and students learning material which, can at least instill a small but permanent groove in their cerebral cortex containing information that a person with a disability is neither a priori inferior, dumb, peevish, and weak, nor must his life necessarily be deprived of joy, comfort, love, and other ordinary pleasures, then it will be a success.
The ethos of the project is rooted in the awareness that people with disabilities are not a burden to society that we have to tolerate; rather they are full-fledged members who, under the appropriate conditions can work just as well as an able-bodied individual and create the same valuable and remarkable things. When members of able-bodied society do not hesitate to offer their help in situations where these people cannot objectively manage for themselves because of their disability, life on both sides of the still existing barriers will be richer.
If this truly becomes the case, then the work of this project would not have been a waste of time and unnecessary expense, and it will fulfill the motto of the project – “Handicap doesn’t mean inability.”