On Letting Everyone Belong: Why Inclusive Education Matters To Me
Maresa McKeith is a Nottingham-based writer, educator, activist and observer of the world. She’s led workshops and talks in a wide range of educational and community settings.
I express myself non-verbally, through alternative communication. I hope that my work challenges, comforts, and gives hope. As a Disabled Woman, I know what it is like to feel completely alone in spaces where others appear to be excelling. I have not merely witnessed that sense of isolation, I have felt it. In schools, many Disabled children need help, but there is never enough quality help around, and so it becomes more about survival, than thriving. My school journey was challenging and complicated. I needed friends to help me get through it, along with other key staff, personal assistants, and my mum. In segregated settings, it is often impossible for children who can’t talk or move to form relationships with each other, as there is nobody to assist those relationships. Friendship is not even on the agenda.
What fuels my work as a writer, poet, and educator, centres around the potential isolation that begins when a Disabled child is not seen as an active part of a school, and the long-lasting impact that this can have. Not just on their own sense of worth, but as to how they are seen by other children. Or worse: not seen at all.
All Young people deserve to be in spaces in which people like myself are not only present, but actively welcomed in – are given the opportunity to make, build and maintain diverse, loving friendships. These friendships, it is important to note, should not be restricted to Disabled people being with other Disabled people only. We are not sheep to be herded into one space with the belief that, due to our collective ‘differences’, we will surely find common ground.
I feel most connected to the world when I hear Young people (Disabled and non-Disabled), share their hopes and dreams with me, as part of the workshops I deliver in schools.
We need to make more space in school life for something as simple, yet invaluable, as time to listen and fully ‘be’ with one another. It is through this time, we can transform fear around disability, into curiosity. To help build a world where inclusive education becomes a given, rather than a battle, I am going to continue to share my story and facilitate spaces in which every young person, no matter what, feels safe, brave and like they belong.
What are you going to do?