Each day over the next week I’ll post up an abstract for a paper being presented by a member of the Critical Physiotherapy Network at the In Sickness and In Health conference in Mallorca in June 2015. (You can find more information on the conference here.)
Reformulating ‘Inclusion’: a study with non-speaking disabled youth
By Gail Teachman & Barbara Gibson
Discourses of ‘inclusion’ assume a predetermined normative centre that constructs people as either insiders or outsiders along a moral hierarchy that privileges particular bodies. It follows then, that movement towards inclusion necessarily involves a whole series of exclusions. In this presentation we explore these notions through research with 13 Canadian disabled youth who had little or no speech. Research participants used augmentative and alternative communication including speech-generating devices, personal communication assistants, gestures, or facial expressions that were combined to substitute for speech. Scant research has been done with youth who have severe communication impairments; little is known about their everyday lives or their experiences and understandings of inclusion/exclusion. In the study we drew on Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogism to develop an innovative critical dialogical methodology. Interview, photo and visual methods were combined to describe participants’ daily activities, social networks, personal geographies, and material environments. We examined the ways that dominant inclusion/exclusion discourses were taken up and manifested by youth through their talk and practices, illuminating the strategies they used to accommodate, resist or reformulate imposed notions of inclusion to locate their ‘place in the world’. In social spaces designated for inclusion, youth were ‘included’ on the margins where their subordinate, circumscribed social positioning had become embodied. Youth struggled for recognition in mainstream spaces where they were physically included but socially marked as invisible, inhuman or spectacle. In resistance, youth strategically emphasized their positive traits, minimized their bodily differences and asserted their worth by showing how they were “the same on the inside”. Together with their families, they reformulated notions of family, friends and community to create positive spaces of inclusion on their own terms. Our analysis complicates taken-for-granted understandings of inclusion as a universal good and instead, considers how the struggle for mainstream inclusion might reproduce social inequities and potentially inhibit flourishing. Our approach also challenges tacit assumptions about ‘voice’ and the ‘individual autonomous participant’ in research.