Join The Club

Colorful representation of the word EXTRACURRICULAR

Do kids with disabilities who go to inclusive, non-segregated schools miss out on the bonding and friendship that can happen between disabled kids when they are grouped together in self-contained classrooms and “special schools?”

One of the nicest things I see and read about in disability blogging and social media is when disabled people are close friends with other disabled people, and a lot of the time, they met when they were young, around high school age. There's a unique bond there that I never had when I was a kid, and haven't had as much as I'd like even in adulthood. Like so many people growing up with disabilities, I saw going to school with “normal” kids as a signal that I was “normal.” I suspect that led me to the mistaken idea that being friends with other disabled kids would make me “more” disabled. There were two or three other disabled kids that I knew of in my high school, and I never for a moment wanted to even know them. More significantly, nobody for a moment suggested I should.

I wonder if we inadvertently deny kids an important kind of bond when we steer them away from self-contained classrooms and "special schools." Inclusion is best, but not because it keeps disabled kids away from each other. That is more of a bug than a feature. We may be able to fix this, though, without reverting to segregation.

High schools should support the formation of disabled student groups. I’m talking about extracurricular activity groups with the same kind of mission and status of other semi-official student groups, except that they would be run by disabled students. While integrating with the full, diverse population of the school, disabled students would also have the opportunity to band together now and then, share experiences, support each other, and, if they want, take on some of the barriers and problems they all face as disabled students in a regular school.

I think it would be really hard to do this well. For one thing, you’d have to find just the right kind of adult advising the group, and there are probably half a dozen or more teachers in every school who would think they’re perfect for the job, most of whom would screw it up. They’d dominate the agenda, half the time turn it into an incubator for media-friendly inspiration pron. It would also bereal challenge to make these groups attractive to all the disabled students, not just the few perfectly adjusted little angels everyone likes already. And the schools would have to be ready to deal fairly with these groups if they did decide to do real advocacy and raise some uncomfortable issues about the school community. Above all, these groups would need the creativity and leeway to make themselves interesting enough so that the whole school would respect them, at least as much as they respect any other non-sports student club with a page in the yearbook.

It’s a tall order, but when it worked, it would be so worth it.

I would love to hear about any actual high school disability groups readers might have been part of or heard about.