Greg Ashman on “binary thinking” about disabilities
Are decisions about disability services an all-or-none proposition?
Over on Filling the Pail, Greg Ashman published observations about the opening address given by Ronald Sackville to the Australian Civil Society Delegation that was attending the 15th Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Australian Civil Society Delegation took exception to Mr. Sackville’s comments. Here’s Mr. Ashman’s report:
Towards the end of his address, Sackville calls for compromise in the pursuit of practical solutions:
We quite often hear the policy issues… presented as involving a choice between mutually exclusive alternatives: supported decision-making vs substituted decision-making; open employment vs segregated employment; group homes or similar arrangements vs independent living; and inclusive education vs segregated/special education.
The policy measures needed… do not necessarily require what can be described as binary thinking: that is one or the other. The principal difficulty with binary approaches is that they tend to assume that there are relatively simple answers to difficult questions. If there is one thing that clearly emerges from the enormous range of activities undertaken by the Royal Commission over the three years of our life, it is that problems may be relatively easy to identify but finding solutions that will work is extraordinarily complex and challenging.
Mr. Ashman noted that some people he identified as activists provided challenges to Mr. Sackville’s comments. Those comments reminded me of phrases heard often in the last 30 years; they are variants on this one: “What part of ‘all’ does he not understand?” The question usually occurred in the context of someone suggesting that it might be possible that an inclusive environment might be detrimental to a child’s development.
As Mr. Ashworth argued, listening to the arguments of some activists is insufficient. It seems to me that some activists’ arguments provide a current example of moral absolutism; one must adopt those arguments completely or hit the highway.
Unless Sackville concludes that all special provision must be removed and all those with a disability must always be included in mainstream classrooms and other mainstream settings, regardless of any practical challenges, he will disappoint this particular lobby group.
The topic to which Mr. Sackville refers is neither new nor limited to Australia. For example, Jim Kauffman and colleagues in the US have been discussing it for years (see, e.g., Kauffman et al., 2016; Kauffman & Hornby, 2020).
I encourage readers to hustle over to Filling the Pail and read Greg Ashman’s post, “Activists fall out of love with Ronald Sackville: The Disability Royal Commission Chair criticised for 'binary thinking' comment.”
Kauffman, J. M., Anastasiou, D., Badar, J., Travers, J. C., & Wiley, A. L. (2016). Inclusive education moving forward. In General and special education inclusion in an age of change: Roles of professionals involved (Vol. 32, pp. 153-178). Emerald Group.
Kauffman, J. M., & Hornby, G. (2020). Inclusive vision versus special education reality. Education Sciences, 10, 258 2020. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1271819.pdf