This week, I was particularly struck by what the representative from Special Olympics presented in her presentation the class. To start, I never realized how narrow the Special Olympics mandate is, narrow in the sense that they only work with individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. This notion peaked my interest, as my work in inclusive education is purely defined by access for learners with disabilities. However, I now realize a major flaw in my approach to inclusive education research. Often, the concept of “disability” is assumed to refer to persons with physical disabilities rather than intellectual. This notion most certainly has informed my approach to inclusive education policy, a real detriment to my work. While many of the policies and programs I advocate for in my research do encompass the needs of persons with intellectual disabilities, having that population represented specifically can go a long way in ensuring they too have access to meaningful educations and more broadly city infrastructure, employment, etc.
For me, this notion raises a whole new set of questions and issues, particularly pertaining to inclusive sustainable cities and Habitat III. The New Urban Agenda has compelled the international community to think more critically and purposefully in designing city infrastructure to be available for all, especially persons with disabilities. However, in documents such as these, is it now essential to allocate specific measures for persons with different types of disabilities? What are the obstacles to revising the current language and adopting it into further talks? Is this a worthy endeavor to pursue considering the upcoming WUF10 conference in Abu Dhabi? In terms of MGOS, is it now important to ensure equal representation among persons with varying types of disabilities? These questions and more were all raised for me during her discussion.
I’m not sure that any of the above questions have a clear answer. While intuitively, it may be easy to say that of course persons with various types of disabilities should be purposely included, the task of ensuring that persons with physical disabilities fully match the presence of persons with intellectual disabilities could be overwhelming and lead to an imbalance in representation. Moreover, if we allocate special language to varying subgroups in a given population, do we have to do it for all subgroups in all populations? Ensuring representation is no easy feat, and I cannot help but wonder how this distinction in the disabled population will inform further policy and advocacy.