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Reverse inclusion?

October 5, 2012

I hope this post will make sense. I’m writing while being sick with a cold.

An extended family member shared a story with me this week. I would like to share some of the story with you. This family member participates in a group recreation activity at a community centre. She had only ever described what activities they did in the class until recently.

This time she shared that the instructor had thanked her for being a consistent, participating member of the group. The instructor stated that in the past many participants got up and walked out of the class when they saw the other class members. Most, if not all, of the other class members have impairments (or disabilities/special needs). Some of the class members have caregivers who attend the class with them.

It surprised my relative that people would actually get up and walk out. Hopefully when the children attending school currently are my relative’s age, this kind of thing won’t happen. Children in inclusive classrooms will have had more experience with disabled people.

We can learn other lessons from my relative’s experience. It is likely that some of the people in the class who walked out were beginning to consider themselves as disabled (or as having special needs) and were not quite ready to accept that fact. It is scary to live with impairments in our culture and society. It doesn’t have to be scary. Living with impairments can be difficult. However, for many people, external barriers and hurtful attitudes and behaviours cause many if not most of the difficulties.

Is there anything the activity leader could have done to make the people who left the group feel more comfortable staying? Or does that work have to be done by making bigger societal changes?


  1. What sort of recreation activities are we talking about? Maybe the reaction is a combination of fear, like you said, and confusion (maybe we’re not supposed to be here.. this is for ‘special needs’).

    • Thanks for commenting, Katie. The recreation activity was a chair exercise class. You are right. It is a little dangerous to assume what motivated people to leave the class – fear, confusion, ??. It may not have been due to the stigma surrounding people who have intellectual differences. Me assuming that was the cause is as bad as people avoiding people with intellectual disabilities. Thanks for the reminder.

      • It brings up the valid point that people often see “special needs” activities as separate from “community” activities. Whether that is attached to devaluation of people with intellectual disabilities, I wouldn’t dispute! It’s definitely a reality.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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