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Module title: Diversity and Equality
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Contemporary early childhood is defined by inequality and diversity both in the U.K. and
throughout the world. Discuss this statement in relation to disability.
There are many issues of inequality and diversity surrounding the area of childhood
disability however this essay will focus on three key areas
• Models of disability.
Eugenics is the study of, or belief in, the possibility of improving the qualities of the
human species. This can take the form of discouraging reproduction by people who may
have genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits. It is argued that
eugenics has been replaced by genetics in the search for the solution to imperfections
within society. This has wider implications for children born or yet to be born with
disabilities. This essay will consider the subtle shift from eugenics to genetics which has
surfaced in a number of aspects within professional practice.
Labelling disability has been a long term practice within the medical and educational
establishment. Historically children with disabilities have been labelled with terms
according to their physical or mental disabilities, e.g. severely physically handicapped,
retarded, etc. This essay will consider the implications of labelling children with
In the U.K. the predominant models used in disability are the medical model and the
social model. Both these models are used by professional agencies in medicine, education
and social work when dealing with children with disabilities. Disability movement groups
have moved towards the social model. This essay will look at the positive and negative
effects of both models on children with disabilities.
Eugenics – Genetics
According to Michael Roe (2000) there has been a new surge of interest in genetic
technologies. Roe (2000) suggests that this interest is fed by dangerously unexamined
assumptions that resemble old style eugenics. Roe (2000) argues that the promotion of
genetic technologies contain the unexamined belief that such developments are for
humanities benefit. The search for perfection, physical, psychological and behavioural is
what appealed to eugenicists in the early part of the 20th Century. One could argue that
eugenics played a part in the mass genocide of millions of people in Nazi Germany. Vast
numbers of children deemed to be imperfect were put to death in concentration camps.
Baker (2002) suggests that one of the significant differences between eugenics and
genetic practices are
• eugenics is aimed at the prevention of fertility of the unfit
• genetic practices are orientated toward the management of conception
In reconsidering the issues of sameness, difference, equality and democracy in the public
school system in America, Baker (2002) focuses on the question of disability. Baker
(2002) suggests that disability becomes reinscribed as “outlaw ontology” outlaw ontology
can be defined as ‘a way of being or existing outside the normal and as such needing to
be chased down’. According to Baker (2002) there is a shift in debates around inclusive
schooling and mainstreaming. Baker (2002) argues that the point of prohibition is
relocated suggesting that instead of telling a child they simple cannot attend a normal
school the child perceived as having disabilities of a certain kind can now be
problemised, marginalised and managed within the mainstream institution.
Campbell (2000) suggests that eugenics is seeking to eliminate the birthing of bodies
marked as disabled. Campbell argues that if bodies marked disabled are born then the
activity of the posse switches to trying to ‘perfect’ the ‘defective’ body or mind and make
it normal. According to Campbell (2000) new eugenics has taken three forms.
• prenatal screening
• disability dispersal policies
• compulsion towards perfecting and morphing technologies of normalization
Crowe (2000) argues that new eugenics is a discreet movement. Crowe (2000) suggests
that the terms of genetic discourse are different from old-style eugenics. According to
Crowe (2000) this is apparent in those proposals that seek out defects by prenatal
screening turning motherhood into decisions about what kinds of bodies to give birth to.
Baker (2000) argues that disability dispersal policies and perfecting technologies ( the use
of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics
and capacities) relate directly to schooling and stresses the importance given to studying
the wider implications of the hunt for disability in public education. Baker (2000) notes
the proliferation of categories of educational disability used to mark students as outside
norms of child development or as at risk of school failure.
Studies have revealed an abysmal record of underachievement for youth with disabilities.
A study by Phelps and Hanley-Maxwell (1997) found that the dropout rate for youth with
disabilities far exceeded those of non-disabled students by nearly a factor of two. The
employment and further education opportunity also falls below levels of non disabled
peers. Even when the students with disabilities found employment their wages were just
above the minimum wage with limited prospects for promotion. Disabilities can have
negative effect for young people limiting access to education and employment which can
lead to economic and social exclusion. In this type of climate one could question whether
or not children should be labelled with a disability.
Definition and Labelling of Disability
The definition of disability and disabled person according to the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995 is:
(1) Subject to the provisions of Schedule 1, a person has a disability for the purposes of
this Act if he has a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term
adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
(2) In this Act “disabled person” means a person who has a disability.
Historically there have been a number of terms used to label children’s disabilities. Some
of these have been less than complimentary, deep-rooted in negative attitudes towards the
disabled. The terms ‘spaz’, ‘reject’, ‘mong’, ‘spesh’, etc have all found their way into
contemporary ways of referring to the disabled child. One could argue that some form of
labelling is a necessity for certain individuals in order for them to access services and
benefits. Children with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or autism require labelling
before accessing educational, medical or community based services.
It was not until the Warnock Report on Special Educational Needs (DES, 1978) that the
term learning difficulties was used to describe a broader group of children exhibiting
difficulties in learning. The Children Act (1989) defines children in need as:
• Those who are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or
development unless the local authority provides services
• Those whose health or development is likely to be significantly impaired unless
the local authority provides services; and
• Disabled children
The process of labelling disabled children can encourage negative perceptions of the
child. According to Jones and Bilton (1994) there may be some sense in negative
attitudes to disabled people including children and that these attitudes reflect the negative
status of disabled people in society. Jones and Bilton (1994) argue that all children have
needs and those children ‘in need’ and children with ‘special needs’ are not separate
groups. Jones & Bilton (1994) suggest that the availability, adequacy and quality of
primary and universal services are an important determinant of the extent to which there
are children in need. Swain et al argue that being labelled, as ‘in need’ can be
pathologising as well as implying that there is some intrinsic problem in the child. Swain
et al (1993) suggest that needs should not be seen as shortfalls in the individual or family
but as an opportunity for development.
Lewis (1995) suggests that discussions about children’s needs are complicated by the
diversity of and use of different definitions. Lewis (1995) argues that there is no
straightforward relationship between disability label and educational provision.
According to Mehan et al (1986) when a child is officially labelled as handicapped or
learning disabled it becomes a social fact about the child and they become instantly
restricted and limited by the boundaries established by mythic discourse. Swain (1993)
suggests that being labelled is a fact of life for disabled people. Swain (1993) argues that
without surrendering to these labels there is no other way of gaining access to services
and welfare benefits and as such ends the possibility of maintaining that an individual or
group is not disabled.
There is evidence to suggest that disabled children from ethnic minority groups face a
form of double or simultaneous oppression. Carby (1982) used the term ‘simultaneous
oppression’ to describe the experiences of black, radical feminist writers in the 1980’s.
According to Carby (1982) these women were subject to simultaneous oppression of
patriarchy, class and race, which rendered their position and experiences as marginal and
invisible. Stuart (1993) identifies three areas where black disabled people experience a
distinct form of simultaneous oppression
• Limited or no individual identity
• Resource discrimination
• Isolation within black communities and the family
Stuart (1993) suggests that each of these areas is influenced by the ideas of new racism.
Stuart suggests that this new racism is based on cultural differences and places black
disabled people at the margins of the ethnic minority and disabled populations.
Studies in the U.S. during the 1980’s (Argulewicz, 1983; Carrier, 1986; Sleeter, 1987)
found an over representation of working class and minority children in the classification
of children with learning difficulties. In the U.K. Tomlinson (1984) found that there was
an over representation of children of immigrants from the Caribbean in the category of
educationally subnormal relative to the percentages of the population. Tomlinson (1984)
argues that arbitrary labelling of these children resulted from personality clashes between
teacher and student however some argue that there are other reasons.
Thomas and Glenny (2000) claim that emotional and behavioural difficulties are bogus
needs in a false category. Thomas and Glenny (2000) suggest that where children from
working class families and minority children are over represented the question arises as
to whether such categories are purely a biomedical (medical research) phenomenon or
confusion between administrative need and quasi-medical categorizing.
Tomlinson (1984) suggests that the determination of educational or academic disability
was culturally biased with little or no biomedical or neurophysiologic base. According to
Tomlinson children from Caribbean families were over represented in the labelling
process initiated by white teachers. Tomlinson (1984) concluded that what was being
labelled was not simply the child but a culture. Prejudicial attitudes toward disabled
people and, indeed, against all minority groups, are not inherited. They are learned
through contact with the prejudice and ignorance of others. Challenging discrimination
became a necessity for groups of people including homosexuals and African Americans.
From the 1950’s onwards women, black people and homosexuals were involved in
challenging prevailing definitions by challenging the language used to underpin the
definitions. They did this by creating, substituting or taking over terminology to provide a
more positive image including terms like ‘black is beautiful’, gay is good, etc. Some
argue that redefinitions of labels may be the way forward for disabled people. Oliver
(1990) suggests that labels or definitions are important for minority groups and that if
social problems are to be resolved they required a fundamental redefinition of the
Labelling of children with disabilities has spread though usage in a number of different
areas. Rieser (2002) argues that some powerful and pervasive views of the disabled are
reinforced in the media, books, films, comics, art and language. Many disabled people
internalise negative views of themselves. These negative views can create feelings of low
self-esteem and achievement. This reinforces non-disabled people's assessment of
disabled people’s worth.
Baker (2000) argues that in the public school system in the U.S. labels are usually what
qualify a child for special educational services. Similarly in the U.K. children are
routinely labelled with A.D.H.D. (attention deficit disorder), B.D. (behavioural
difficulties), D.C.D. (developmental coordination disorder), etc. Baker (2000) suggests
that the use of acronyms for labelling children has become a phenomenon. Baker (2002)
suggests that one could choose any letter of the alphabet and place a ‘D’ after it to find a
category defining a school aged child as a problem which requires recording in school
files. Baker suggests that these new disability nomenclatures are not just new ways of
speaking about children and their development. Baker (2002) argues that they represent a
shift from the moralization of disability to the medicalisation of disability during the 20 th
Jaques-Stiker (1999) debates what incites the fever for classification and the passion for
sameness. Jaques-Stiker (1999) argues that the question we have forgotten to ask is ‘why
is disability called dis-ability’? Jaques-Stiker (1999) questions why people who are born
or become different are referred to by so many names. Baker (2000) suggests that there
has been a swarming effect around the hunt for and diagnosis of disability as a negative
ontology used by schools. Baker (2000) suggests that the schools are actively seeking to
name and remedy disabilities with best intentions.
Rieser (2002) argues that the models of disability in use by professionals today can create
a cycle of dependency and exclusion, which is difficult to break.’ There are different
models of disability which claim to cater for the needs of disabled people including
children. The two main models of disability in use in the U.K. are the ‘medical model’
and the ‘social model’.
The Medical Model of Disability
The medical model of disability has been defined as
A model by which illness or disability is the result of a physical condition, is
intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individual’s own body), may reduce
the individual's quality of life, and causes clear disadvantages to the individual.
Oliver (1990) suggests that the predominant concept of disability in the U.K. is that it is
regarded as a personal tragedy requiring medical attention. Richard Rieser (2002) argues
that the medical model of disability sees the disabled person as the problem, which has to
be fitted into the world as it is. Historically disabled children have been placed in
‘special’ schools, institutions or isolated at home. Rieser (2002) argues that in these
circumstances the emphasis is on dependence backed up by stereotypes of disability.
Society has traditionally valued physical and mental perfection as well as independence.
Anyone displaying the opposite, i.e. physical and or mental imperfection being dependent
have been pitied or patronised. Some parents argue for inclusion through integration for
their child because they do not want them segregated from the rest of the school-going
population. Szivos (1992) suggests that we should ask ourselves whether in denying
labels we are also denying and devaluing ‘difference’.
Rieser (2002) suggests that people should be encouraged to view the issue of including
disabled children from a human rights and equality perspective rather than seeing the
child as ‘faulty’. This view is supported by Uditsky (1993) who argues for a set of
principles which ensures that the student with a disability is viewed as a valued and
needed member of the school community in every respect. This view is supported by
Mercer et al (1997) who argue for an inclusive approach.
Swain et al (1993) suggest that the overriding political feature of interventions
administered by the medical profession is that it brings all disabled people together under
a single medical interpretation of the cause behind their marginalized position in society.
Rieser (2002) believes that the medical model of disability is a powerful tool used by
medical and associated professions to determine many aspects of the lives of disabled
people. Rieser suggests that these ‘usually non-disabled professionals’ decide on
• Where disabled people go to school,
• What support they get
• What type of education they get
• Where they live
• Whether or not they can work and what type of work they can do
• Whether or not they are born at all
• Whether they are allowed to procreate
Rieser argues that the same control is exercised over the disabled by the built
environment. Rieser argues that the disabled life chances are curtailed because their
needs are not being met. Rieser suggests that these barriers exist in work, school, leisure,
entertainment facilities, transport, training, higher education, housing, personal, family
and social life.
Participation and equality for the disabled can be hindered by the negative attitudes of
‘able’ people in families, communities, government and some voluntary sectors. Swain et
al (1993) suggest that another model has emerged which is based on community-based
service providers. Swain et al argue that contrary to helping disabled people have greater
control over their lives the community –based providers have wider perspectives than
their medical colleagues which leave disabled people with little to do for themselves.
Swain et al suggest that the community worker is there to provide expert advice on
everything from the architecture of the disabled person’s home to the intimacies of their
personal and sexual problems. This form of intervention has been described as leaving
the disabled person as ‘socially dead’ Miller & Gwynne (1972).
Swain (1993) suggests that disabled people have had to pay a price for the benefits of a
needs based provision, which includes invasion of privacy by an army of professionals.
Swain et al suggest that the disabled are socialized into dependency because the services
are provided for them rather than with them. Swain (1993) suggests that voluntary
organisations and the media continue to promote negative images of children with
disabilities accentuated by televised events like ‘Children in Need’. One study found that
disabled children ‘appear to have been conditioned into accepting a devalued role as sick,
pitiful and a burden of charity’ (Hutchinson and Tennyson, 1986, p.33).
We all have different needs, and different weaknesses. Palme (2000) believed that the
society in which we live should never be formed on the basis of the special demands by
the few. Palme (2000) suggested that society must be formed in such a way that it will
suit all and that the needs of disabled persons must influence the planning of our societies
as much as the needs of non-disabled persons. Palme (2000) suggested that this should
happen not because we must pay special attention to the disabled, but because they are
citizens of the society as everyone else. Palme (2000) argued that the needs of the
disabled must be included in the building of the society as a matter of course’. This view
could be considered as supporting the social model of disability
The Social Model of Disability
The social model of disability proposes that systemic barriers, negative attitudes and
exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) are the ultimate factors defining who is
disabled and who is not in a particular society. Wikipedia (2009)
The 'social model' of disability views the barriers that prevent disabled people from
participating in any situation as what disables them. The 'social model' arises from
defining impairment and disability as very different things. Crowe, C. (2000) suggests
that the social model of disability has changed the lives of disabled people considerably.
Crowe (2000) argues that the physical disability is not responsible for difficulties
disabled people face. Crowe argues that external factors, barriers created by society are
responsible. Crowe (2000) suggests that because these restrictions had been created by
society then society could solve them.
Silburn (1988) carried out research into the expressed needs of young disabled people in
North Derbyshire. The research was based on seven needs which were defined by the
young disable people themselves. They included the need for
• Information on aspects of benefits, services and opportunities.
• access to everyday facilities
• barrier free accommodation for independence
• technical aids for independent living
• personal assistance when required and controlled by the disabled person
• counselling for the same reasons as able bodied people
• barrier free transport
Swain et al (1993) suggest that the integrated living teams involved in the North
Derbyshire project are operating at the interface of social and medical models of care.
Swain et al (1993) suggest that the rehabilitation of the disabled dominates the medical
model. According to Swain et al (1993) rehabilitation is a vast area of the health service
which is underpinned by research departments in universities. Swain et al (1993) question
to what extent disabled people would want to be rehabilitated if they lived in a world with
decent wheelchairs and a barrier free environment. There are a number of other issues
which affect the young disabled and cross both the medical and social model of
There is evidence (H.M Government 2006) which suggests that disabled children are at
increased risk of abuse, and that the presence of multiple disabilities appears to increase
the risk of both abuse and neglect.
In the report Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006) it is argued that disabled
children may be especially vulnerable to abuse for a number of reasons. These reasons
include the fact that disabled children
• have fewer outside contacts than other children
• receive intimate personal care from a number of carers, which may both increase
the risk of exposure to abusive behaviour and make it more difficult to set and
maintain physical boundaries
• have an impaired capacity to resist or avoid abuse
• have communication difficulties that may make it difficult to tell others what is
• be inhibited about complaining because of a fear of losing services
• be especially vulnerable to bullying and intimidation and/or be more vulnerable
than other children to abuse by their peers
In order to safeguard disabled children the report suggests that particular attention should
be paid to promoting high standards of practice and a high level of awareness of the risks
of harm. The recommended measures in the report are more in line with the social model
of disability than the medical model. The recommendations include
• strengthening the capacity of children and families to help themselves
• making it common practice to help disabled children make their wishes and
feelings known in respect of their care and treatment
• ensuring that disabled children receive appropriate personal, health and social
education (including sex education)
• making sure that all disabled children know how to raise concerns, and giving
them access to a range of adults with whom they can communicate
In the early part of the 20th Century Eugenics was considered as a realistic way of solving
a number of social, physical and psychological problems in society. One can only
imagine what sort of atrocities children suffered in the concentration camps of Nazi
Germany in the name of Eugenics.
Roe, Baker & Campbell (2000) bring our attention to a renewed form of eugenics
reinscribed as genetics. Prenatal screening, disability dispersal policies and genetic
practices towards the management of conception are all included in new eugenics. One
could argue that society is heading towards the elimination of disabilities and therefore it
is a matter of time before the issues of diversity and equality for disabled children will no
longer exist. Campbell (2000) makes the point that for the child already born disabled
scientists are involved in trying to perfect the disability itself.
With developments in prenatal screening and genetic research prospective parents are
now faced with ethical, religious, moral, physical, financial and emotional considerations
as to whether they give birth at all to what might be a child with disabilities.
Children who are born with a disability are protected by a number of rights including the
Children’s Act 1995 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In order to access services and benefits children have had to be labelled with a specific
disability. Jones & Bilton make the point that all children have needs and that children
are only in need if there are limited, inadequate, quality primary and universal services.
Given that this is the case one could argue that labelling children with a disability
instantly restricted by the boundaries of mythic discourse on disability. Tomlinson (1984)
makes the point that an over representation of children from these groups occurs through
a combination of administrative and medical needs. It is argued that this categorisation is
prejudiced towards children from minority groups. There has been a rise in the amount of
nomenclature used to categorise children’s difficulties leading Baker (2000) to describe it
as ‘a phenomenon’.
The medical model of disability sought to place children in institutions segregated from
their able bodied peers. The pervasive view of these children was that they were pitied
and patronised. The child was seen as having a problem outside of the ‘norm’. The social
model argues that society creates the disability. The social model attempts to remove
social barriers for the disabled. Both models can work together in addressing the
multitude of issues surrounding issues of equality and diversity in childhood disability.
There is evidence that when young disabled people are given the opportunity to
participate fully in the decision making process they achieve a greater independence.
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