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Yeo, Lay See
An island republic where its people are its only natural resource, Singapore has come a long way since its independence. In the early 1960s, children with disabilities received education in special schools and this practice continued until 2004 despite calls in the late 1980s for inclusion (Poon, Musti-Rao, & Wettasinghe, 2013).
The first Enabling Master Plan was introduced in 2007. Enabling Masterplans are five-year roadmaps for the Singapore government and the community to work together to support persons with disabilities. These masterplans help Singapore build a caring and inclusive society, where persons with disabilities are recognised and empowered to be contributing members of society. The enabling masterplans encompass the early detection of disability, education, employment, health, assistive technology, and infrastructure (Ministry of Social and Family Development, 2022). The enthusiasm for providing students with the best support has been given further impetus with the current Enabling Masterplan (EM) 3 (2017-2021), a 5-year road map that charts the development of programmes and services for those with disabilities and the extension of the Compulsory Education (CE) Act to include students with special needs by 2019.
While the movement towards developing inclusive schools has picked up pace over the past few years, yet the experiences and perspectives of school life of young people with moderate to severe physical disability are very much a mystery to those around them. Professionals and parents aspire to implement what they feel is best for students with disabilities in schools, such as ramps, accessible doorways, lifts to individual floors, assistive technology devices, inclusive play and sports facilities that cater to varying abilities. Such inclusive facilities are purported to encourage socialisation which will improve the well-being of students though the views of the students with disabilities have not been consulted.
The researcher has observed the lack of student voices to guide engagement and intervention services. This can be seen even in the Enabling Masterplan 3, which saw more than 400 people consulted for their feedback and ideas through interviews and focus group discussions but none of whom were students at the point of this study.
To further illustrate the lack of student voices in the guidance of inclusive educational policymaking, a research by Ragunathan, Balakrishnan, Smith and Kadir (2015) explored the challenges that persons with disabilities encountered in different phases of their lives, but the study could not elucidate the extent of their challenges in school because the participants were adults and were unable to accurately recall their school experiences which were several years in the past. Also, their experiences will be qualitatively different from those of a young person with a disability today who has access to better fitted schools, resources, and teachers educated in special needs. These examples illustrate the seeming lack of interest or confidence in seeking the opinion of young students and will in turn further deepen the stereotype of dependency and powerlessness. Byrne and Rickards (2011) cautioned to not lightly dismiss students’ perspectives as there are advantages in having them in the inclusion process since they have abilities to evaluate the appropriateness of educational interventions (Pridmore, 2000).
The researcher of this study explored the lived experiences of students who have physical disabilities, specifically in terms of how they make sense of their school life. “Nothing about us without us” – this research will shed light on school life through these students’ eyes: how they navigate their school infrastructure and facilities, how they cope with school stresses compared to their mainstream peers, and the quality of their interactions with fellow students and teachers. In the process, we hope to better understand how various resources and initiatives for inclusiveness have impacted their overall well-being. The study was achieved through a multiple case study analysis of four adolescents (mean age = 15 years) with physical disabilities who are studying in mainstream secondary school.
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checked on Nov 24, 2022
checked on Nov 24, 2022
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