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Helping Families and Students Aim Higher

AimHigherAim higher: This is what parents and families were told in a session held in the fall of 2006 in London, Ontario.

Marilyn Dolmage, project co-ordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education and key facilitator for the “One Day Workshop on Inclusion,” says that segregated classes are failing to offer students with intellectual disabilities a full spectrum learning experience.

“We have to make sure that students with developmental disabilities have access to all available learning experiences,” says Dolmage, who notes that in 2004, 82 per cent of secondary school students in Ontario were in segregated classrooms. Dolmage, who worked with the Canadian Association for Community Living in 2004 examined ways to improve employment prospects for students, and says that self- advocates from People First of Canada who had gone through a segregated class often dubbed them “awful.” 

Segregated classes, says Dolmage, don’t offer the same quality education – or social involvement – that integrated ones do. “Why do they waste their time in school?” asks Dolmage. “When looking at career options the most academic learning that is possible is a number one concern. And all benefit in the learning process from social involvement.”

Graduates of integrated programs typically leave with more resources for career planning, she adds, and increased contacts in the community improve job prospects. Dolmage, along with members of the London Family Network and Integration Action for Inclusion in Community and Education, will use the workshop to look at ways to “aim higher” for students and families – how to improve the educational system, including instruction and building social connections.

Also of great importance, says Dolmage, is post-graduation planning. Community Living associations can increase their involvement in post-graduation planning, she suggests. “We want to give some hope to parents – the system is challenging.” Full citizenship for students with intellectual disabilities is impossible without an educational system that supports their full inclusion. “Citizenship is about connections and contributions,” says Dolmage. “How can high school life promote these?”

For more information contact Patty Gillis at 519-642-2229.