From Exclusion to Inclusion: Barriers and Possibilities in Relation to Disabled Learners.

Autor:in - Len Barton
Themenbereiche: Schule
Textsorte: Vortrag
Releaseinfo: Institute of Education, University of London; Paper Presented at the Erasmus Mundus Conference in Prague. From 13th -16th March 2008.
Copyright: © Len Barton 2008


This paper will critically consider some of the key aspects of the nature of exclusion and inclusion in relation to disabled learners. Priority will be given to insights from cross-cultural work and the voices of disabled people and their organisations. The paper is set within a wider global dimension and will endeavour to raise questions and encourage further explorations. Drawing on research evidence and discussions, current developments with regard to inclusion will be highlighted as well as the seriousness and extent of the changes that still need to be achieved.

The Nature of Exclusion

In seeking to understand the nature of inclusion, it is absolutely necessary to examine the ways in which exclusion is defined and experienced in the lives of disabled people in different social contexts. This also requires, that careful critical consideration is given to the question of how disability is defined and by whom, and with what consequences for the definers and the defined. This approach has several important implications. Firstly, it provides an opportunity to raise critical questions about the nature of society in which we live and the kind of society we may desire or hope for. Secondly, how we define disability will influence our expectations and the ways in which we interact with disabled people. These can have both negative and positive consequences. Finally, it gives priority to the voices of disabled people in terms of their understandings, fears, hopes and demands for change.

In a seminar which I organized under the auspices of the European Union in Brussels, researchers from several European societies met to identify and discuss possible research agendas in relation to the theme of 'Inclusion and Education'. Several points of agreement were established including:

If we are serious about the pursuit of inclusive societies, then we need a zero-tolerance to all forms of discrimination and exclusion.

Understanding exclusion is an essential task in the pursuit of inclusive thinking and relationships.

That 'exclusion' does not have a single dimension but is multi-faceted. Thus, it is more than concerns about attitudes and resources.

What research evidence confirms is the fundamental importance of recognizing that the grounds for the pursuit of inclusive thinking and practice are based on the informed conviction that something is wrong and offensive about the current situation in education and society. Nor are these minor temporary blemishes. They are fundamental forms of discrimination and exclusion which need urgent, serious intervention and challenge. Thus, inclusion is more than mere questions of access or improving channels of communication. Also, an adequate understanding cannot be satisfied with an analysis that focuses exclusively on the school or the individual child and thus views education in a social vacuum.

Disability from this perspective challenges dominant, official and common sense views in that it is not viewed as a tragedy, a punishment or the result of some sin(s) of the parent(s) or the individual concerned, nor is it a sickness in need of a cure. It is a form of social oppression. In his seminal paper in examining the concept of oppression in relation to disability, Abberley (1987) argues, viewing disability as oppression provides a basis for disabled people to both understand and transform their own situation. He contends:

To claim that disabled people are oppressed involves, however, arguing a number of other points at an empirical level, it is to argue that on significant dimensions disabled people can be regarded as a group whose members are in an inferior position to other members of society because they are disabled. It is also to argue that these disadvantages are dialectically related to an ideology or group of ideologies which justify and perpetuate this situation. Beyond this is to make the claim that such disadvantages and their supporting ideologies are neither natural nor inevitable. Finally, it involves the identification of some beneficiary of this state of affairs (p.7).

Advocating that disabled people are oppressed necessitates engaging with the issue of power. From this perspective power is not viewed as a form of property which some people possess, but rather, as a set of relations involving the exercise of decision-making. This encourages particular forms of critical enquiry including, how, why and with what consequences does the exercise of power take place within particular sets of social conditions and relations? How are such developments justified and maintained? Who benefits and why?

At the heart of this perspective is the extent to which disabled people are able to exercise control over their lives including their bodies. They are involved in a struggle to capture the power of naming difference itself. An emancipatory meaning of difference is one of the key interests of disability studies. This involves breaking out of a subordinate role; refusing to acquiesce to a stigmatised social identity and developing a sense of pride in ones self. The challenge this involves can be seen in the personal reflections of a disabled activist called Brisenden (1986) who argues that 'impairment' is a metaphor for a socially unacceptable person and that disabled people 'are seen as abnormal' because we are different; we are problem people, lacking the equipment for social integration' (p. 3). He maintains that such a perspective compares disabled people against an assumed notion of 'normality' which 'leads to neurosis and is the cause of much guilt and suffering'. This is the context against which the struggle for change needs to be understood.

So, central to this perspective is the recognition that disabled people have and continue to be excluded and discriminated against in varying degrees of significance in society. The nature of exclusion and discrimination is complex and varied, including for example, being treated- as- less than human; being viewed exclusively as objects of charity; being seen as in need of protection and control; being excluded from the work force; living on or below the poverty line; being unable to experience the entitlements of citizenship resulting in a lack of real participation in social encounters and decisions over issues affecting their lives; being voiceless and thus seen as passive recipients of actions and intentions by those constituted as experts.

This form of critique has its origins in what has become known as the social model of disability, which has been developed by disabled people and their organisations in the struggle for social justice, equity and independent living. This perspective has been instrumental in critiquing individualised, pathologised, perspectives of disability in which personal loss and abnormalities are given a particular significance. As one disabled women Degener (1995) contends:

Perceiving disability as a condition similar to illness and exclusively as a functional limitation means that disability is considered as an individual rather than a social problem, and that solutions are sought for in the individual sphere, through therapy and technical or personal support. Thus, neither the society nor the environment have to be changed (p13).

It is vitally important that we do not underestimate the grave seriousness with which these issues and barriers are viewed by disabled people. It is an unadaptive, unfriendly, hostile set of material conditions and social relations that cumulatively contribute to the marginalisation, disempowerment and exclusion of disabled people. Thus, good intentions, charity and ad-hoc responses or interventions are inadequate and inappropriate to effectively address the profundity and stubbornness of the discriminatory factors involved. A very important disabled activist in England, Rachel Hurst (1996) powerfully reminds us of this:

For disabled people in particular, the interaction between our right to individual freedom and choice and control over our own lives and our right to non-discrimination and inclusion measures is crucial. Our exclusion has been so systematic and rigorous that there is a need for fundamental changes to society in order to support our inclusion (no page numbers).

This is the context in which the struggles for change is taking place. It is a struggle for citizenship, human rights and the necessity of a non-discriminatory, inclusive society.

In order to reinforce the grave seriousness of these issues, it is important to highlight various forms of abuse that disabled people experience. For example, In February 2008 in England, the trial took place of two teenagers and a man who brutally murdered Brent Martin a disabled young man. During the trial, it was revealed that the attack had been motivated by a £5.00 bet between the youths that they could knock Brent out. The prosecutor Toby Hedworth QC told the court that, "They behaved like a pack of animals in that they repeatedly punched, kicked, head butted and stamped on Bret Martin. As the attack went on, its nature, ferocity and perseverance made it quite clear that they were not happy till he was dead". Brent died from a massive head injury having never regained consciousness. All three attackers were found guilty. Another example can be seen from an investigation into policy and practice in relation to the position and experience of individuals classified as having intellectual disabilities in the Czech Republic, two researchers Vann and Siska (2006), one who is from Charles University are critical of the use of 'cage beds' in the provision and control of individuals. Whilst not unique to the Czech Republic, the country has a long history of the institutionalisation of disabled children and adults in large institutions located in remote parts of the country. The researchers drawing on reports conducted by other agencies, contend that these institutions and the experiences they provide for the individuals concerned, are characterised by:

...hours of inactivity, boredom and isolation. Staff members are often too low to provide rehabilitation and therapy. The physical environment is relatively impersonal (p427).

These institutions and their practices have their roots in the former communist policy for disabled people and especially those who are defined as intellectually disabled. Whilst there have been some significant changes, the need for further change with regard to anti-discrimination legislation and the nature of funding in order for more community-based programmes to be developed, is still an issue of serious concern. The use of 'cage beds' still needs to be challenged as can be seen from the broadcast on the BBC news in January 2008 highlighting the use of such practices in the Czech Republic. Whilst they do constitute an example of the abuse of human rights, the question of the way disability is perceived, which informs such practices, clearly reflects disabilist assumptions including the belief that such individuals are ineducable. Finally, and it is painful to write about it, another horrifying example of the abuse of disabled people, was reported in The Guardian newspaper in England in February 2008. This concerned the revelation by Michael Howard of bombs being strapped to women defined as having Down's Syndrome in Baghdad, the reporter states that:

Remote-controlled explosives were strapped to two women with Down's Syndrome and detonated in co-ordinated attacks on two Friday morning markets in central Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 73 people and wounding nearly 150.

Adding to the terribleness of this abuse, the bombs had been detonated by remote control indicating that the individuals may not have been willing attackers.

These three examples may be seen as extreme or sensational and it is crucial therefore that we do not understate the varied, significant discriminations, exclusions and barriers that are part of the everyday occurrences within society, as Coleridge (1993) confirms in the following statement:

Every time a disabled person goes out into the street, he or she has in a sense to start from scratch; the looks, the avoidance, the awkwardness, the prejudice are all there every time. Dealing with these things positively time after time gets very wearing (p37).

Or as Oliver (1996) so forcefully contends:

...disability according to the social model is all the things that impose restrictions on disabled people; ranging from individual prejudice to institutional discrimination; from inaccessible buildings to unusable transport systems; from segregated education to excluding work arrangements and so on. Further, the consequences of this failure do not simply or randomly fall on individuals but systematically upon disabled people as a group who experience this failure as discrimination institutionalised throughout society (p33).

Disability is thus a public issue in which discriminatory social structures, social relationships and social processes need to be challenged and changed. Disabled people are not a homogeneous group. The difficulties and responses to being disabled are influenced by, for example, class, race, gender, sexuality and age factors. These can cushion or compound the experience of discrimination and oppression. Thus, some individuals experience simultaneous oppression resulting in differential impacts on their identities and lives.

The extent of the seriousness of exclusion and discrimination in the lives of disabled people is reflected in the fundamental changes that need to be realised in order for their life chances to be improved. This involves importantly raising challenging questions for example, over the position and role of governments in this change process. This includes as a Report (2004) published from the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit in England illustrates:

How should Government work with disabled people and other stakeholders to address barriers to inclusion?

What lines of responsibility between disabled people, government, service providers and employers does this imply? (p4)

What is essential to recognise, is that the changes involved are based on a view of society that is radically different from the existing one. This has been vividly captured by Oliver and Barnes (1998) in the following way:

It will be a very different world from the one in which we now live. It will be a world that is truly democratic....we all need a world where impairment is valued and celebrated and all disabling barriers are eradicated. Such a world will be inclusionary for all (p 102).

Inclusive Education

All educational issues and conceptions are contentious. That is, they are open to a range of possible meanings and purposes and need to be struggled over. They represent tensions between different interested parties over meanings and applications. This is particularly true of inclusive education in that different parties can use the same language but mean, and are interested in, very different concerns and outcomes. Thus, how we define inclusive education, the policies and practices that arise from such a perspective is of fundamental importance.

In an important EPPI Centre Review (2002) the question of definition is discussed. Whilst recognising the limitations of their perspective the authors offer three key views. Firstly, inclusive education is about responding "simultaneously to students who differ from each other in important ways some of which pose particular challenges to the school". Secondly, it is not just about maintaining the presence of students in school but also about maximising their participation. Finally," inclusion is a process which can be shaped by school-level action" (p7).

In this paper the question of inclusion raises some very significant issues. First, it encourages the issue of change to be foregrounded. Unlike integration, the change process is not about assimilation but transformation of those deep structural barriers to change including the social basis of dominant definitions of 'success', 'learning', 'failure' and 'ability' within the academy as well as schools. (Whitty 2002; Gillborn and Youdell 2000). Nor should we underestimate the difficulties of this task which involves treating the familiar in a critical way. Secondly, inclusion is a "Distinctly political, 'in your face', activity" (Corbett and Slee 2000 p136) and it involves a political critique of social values, priorities, structures and the institutions which they support. This is both a disturbing and challenging activity which is an essential feature of the struggle for change. Lastly, inclusive education is fundamentally about how we understand and engage with difference in constructive and enabling ways. It is a public process of naming and identifying what we value about one another. To do justice to the difference between pupils, to approach such differences as a resource, an opportunity for learning and not a problem to be fixed, thus becomes a crucial dimension of what it means to work towards inclusive education (Ainscow 1999).

In modern society with the concern for healthy living, various warnings are being articulated about the dangers of excess, for example, with regard to eating and drinking on the one hand and the need for more appropriate diets and physical activities on the other. I think with regard to inclusive education, we now need to alert people to various misunderstandings and misrepresentations that are being expressed in popular and academic outlets. A series of such warnings would include for example:

Beware of advocates of inclusion who maintain that inclusive education is merely about placement or a question of resources. It is about equity, social justice and citizenship. The fundamental issue is whether there is the political will to realise an inclusive reality.

Beware of advocates of inclusion who emphasise its exciting and developmental aspects without recognising the disturbing and difficult process involved. Changing conditions, perspectives, priorities and intentions is a very demanding task.

Beware of advocates of inclusion who emphasise the importance of the individual child without seeking to connect such concerns to wider socio-economic and political concerns.

Beware of advocates of inclusion who depict the issue of inclusion merely in terms of the placement of disabled children into a mainstream unchanged system of provision and practice. It is fundamentally about the maximum participation of all pupils.

Beware of advocates of inclusion who depict the task as something teachers and schools can do alone. It needs to involve, for example, parents, the community in new and effective relationships.

Finally, beware of advocates who claim inclusive education is an end in itself. It is a means to an end that of an inclusive society. In this struggle there are no slick, quick, blueprints or answers.

The question of inclusivity and the degree and extent of the struggles involved need to be understood as a political issue. It is political in that it is about who is in and who is out and gives priority to the major political questions of who gets what, how, when, why and with what consequences? It is political in that it seeks to critically engage with all forms of inequalities, discriminations and oppression. It is also political in that it is concerned with the nature of decision-making and the prioritisation of particular values, intentions, the allocation of scarce resources and the consequent opportunities in terms of the quality of life dimensions. It is political in that it raises the fundamentally important question of inclusion into what? However, it is also crucial that the question of inclusivity, the nature of the issues involved, their degree of seriousness, the forms of struggles and strategies for change all need to be understood contextually. This includes taking into consideration the history, politics, socio-economic and cultural, dimensions of a given society.

This approach to inclusion encourages a range of crucial questions including:

What are schools for?

What do we expect schools to achieve?

What constitutes learning?

What do pupils need to learn?

In what sorts of institutional/organizational contexts should this learning take place?

What do schools and teachers need to enable them to teach from inclusive values and intentions?

In a very important Report of a study entitled 'Education's Missing Millions (2007), the issue of inclusion and its implementation is viewed as crucial in relation to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. The Education For All Fast Track Initiatives supported by principles and directives derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, is concerned to develop a combined effort directed to ensure that 'disabled children's rights to education are respected, protected and fulfilled'. The Fast Track Initiative is intended to provide support for working in partnership towards this end. Whilst some progress has been achieved, the Report highlights the alarming figures, that of the estimated 77 million children who remain out of school worldwide, over one third are disabled children. A disproportionate number of these disabled children live in majority world countries. Highlighting this problem and the varied reasons for disabled children often remaining invisible, the study seeks to critically identify attitudinal, environmental, legal, institutional and resource barriers to inclusion in education. In the report, inclusion is identified as involving:

a recognition of the right to education and its provision in non-discriminatory ways.

a common vision which covers all children of the appropriate age range.

a conviction that schools have a responsibility to educate all children.

a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners, recognising that all children can learn (p8).

What this Report vividly reminds us, is on the one hand, the seriousness of the issues involved in the pursuit of inclusion in education, and on the other, the unacceptable gulf that often exists between laudable statements, claims and policy directives and the actual practices and degrees of their implementations. The above Report also encourages a recognition of the necessity of understanding inclusivity contextually.

Exploring the question of disabled children in Indonesia, Suwaryani (2008) powerfully illustrates the complexity and significance of context in several informative ways. For example, inclusion in Indonesia is viewed as fundamentally concerned with placement and getting more disabled children into schools. Because of the limited places available within schools, attendance at a special school is seen as better than having no education at all. Also, whilst appreciating the importance of the social model of disability, including recognising that such an approach is critical of charity-based practices, the researcher highlights the difficulties of applying this model in an uncritical way in Indonesia. As she carefully argues, for a Muslim country, charity is a duty and is part of the five pillars of Islam. Thus, any attempt to wholeheartedly challenge such an approach will be counter-productive to effective change. What she advocates is the importance within Indonesia for a synthesis to be developed between human rights and charity.

Another example of understanding disability contextually is vividly illustrated in a recent Special Issue of the International Journal of Inclusive Education on South Africa (Mitchell. 2007). The articles are disturbing and frightening in the way in which they outline the gravely fundamental challenges that have arisen through the impact of AIDS. Due to the numbers of teachers and students who are becoming sick and or dying, there is a serious disruption to the continuity of teaching and learning; there is a facilitation of learning breakdown; an increasingly despondent and emotional context and a negative impact on future expectations due to the uncertainties involved for increasing numbers of participants. In outlining these harrowing factors Beyers & Hey (2007) also offer this grave warning:

The successful implementation of inclusive education in South(ern) Africa is in jeopardy because of the added demands placed on educators by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Inclusive education will not survive this complex interaction with the HIV and AIDS pandemic if drastic measures are not taken. If not, inclusive education will become 'inclusion by default' where effective support is not rendered and the majority of learners once again are neglected on educational, emotional and health levels. The 'life' of inclusive education in South(ern) Africa hangs on a thread...... (p397).

These articles are both salutary and timely in that they reinforce the awesome responsibility of researchers when making claims about the relevance of their perspectives for other societies. A great deal of damage has been done by so-called experts from the minority (western) world seeking to impose insensitively and uncritically ideas and practices on economically, vulnerable majority world societies. Inclusivity is about the well-being of all citizens and the removal of all forms of discrimination and exclusion. These papers also are a vivid reminder of the increasing complexity of the issues and demands that schools, teachers and education generally face in the modern world.

In seeking to become more inclusive in thinking and daily practices, participants need to be involved in a critical learning process which includes the following sets of concerns:

Learning to understand the difference between schooling and education and in relation to post school and higher education the difference between training and education.

Learning to understand the importance of a human rights approach to the education of all pupils.

Learning to recognise the serious and perennial task of identifying and challenging all the varied forms of exclusion and discrimination - a zero-tolerance to such factors.

Learning to understand and experience the fundamental importance and difference between hearing and listening in daily interactions with others, especially disabled people.

Developing more flexible, imaginative ways of teaching and learning.

Learning the centrality of networking and developing more supportive cultures in which to work and live.

Learning to establish exciting and creative relationships with for example, pupils and parents.

Finally, we also need to seriously and continually work at clarifying our understanding about the purpose of our teaching. How far do we view our teaching as contributing to the realisation of our hope?


In this paper I have attempted to highlight some of the varied and stubborn barriers to inclusive thinking and practice. Whilst transformative change is central to an inclusive approach, it must not be understood as a smooth, linear process. Rather, it is characterised by developments, contradictions, setbacks and uncertainties. It inevitably involves identifying, understanding and challenging all forms of barriers to inclusion in all spheres of society including education. It is about maximising the participation of all people in a more empowering and liberating ways of living and behaving. Such a dynamic perspective has been captured by two French analysts Revaud and Stiker (2001) who raise the question 'What form true democratic inclusion would take'? (p508) They are particularly interested in the importance of social bonding and the differing ways this can be conceived and the implications for disabled people. Exclusion and inclusion from their approach must be understood in terms of a complex, dynamic relationship to one another. This enables some important research tasks to be identified including: is necessary to determine who are affected by exclusion and inclusion, determine what disabled people are excluded from or what they are included in, and how and to what degree they are in or out at different times and in different social groupings (p490).

The question of inclusion is fundamentally about issues of human rights, equity, social justice and the struggle for a non-discriminatory society. Education from this perspective is not a privilege for a select few. No child is viewed as ineducable, and all children are entitled to quality education, which includes issues of access, fair treatment with regard to learning and fair access to the outcomes of education Unterhalter (2006). The question of rights is derived from the qualification of being human. A commitment to human rights in education demands the highest form of expectations on the part of all teachers with regard to the learning and well-being of all pupils. Inclusive education is not about containment, assimilation, or accommodation, nor should it involve placing pupils in unchanged, under-resourced and unplanned circumstances.

The language used to describe the pursuit of inclusive thinking and practice is that of a struggle. It is a hard and persistent battle. The use of such discourse reminds us of the strength and pervasiveness of that which is being challenged. Secondly, it highlights the degree of commitment required by those engaged in such efforts. Thirdly, it reinforces the social nature of this activity and the importance of collective solidarity and engagement. Finally, it assumes there are no easy quick answers to what are complex and fundamental issues.

The recognition of the necessity of developing good and effective legislation, which supports the removal of all forms of exclusion and discrimination within education and society generally, is crucial in the struggle for more inclusive conditions and relations. Often such objectives are seen as desirable but not enforceable. Get-out clauses within the legislation create barriers to effective implementation, like where inclusive education is encouraged 'providing the education of other children is not affected'. Both the specific nature of legislation and the degree to which it is enforceable are of paramount significance. Understanding children's entitlements under law and our responsibilities to meet these requirements within schools is an urgent task which needs to be part of a carefully supported, monitored and evaluated, staff development policy and practice. The extent to which all staff have an informed knowledge and understanding of the latest legislation and its impact on daily practice is thus an issue of perennial importance.

Finally, the position of teacher education in relation to the development of inclusive thinking, relations and practices on the part of student teachers is of fundamental importance. The question of teacher education, the curriculum, teaching assumptions and priorities have been highlighted in the experiences of several societies in a collection of papers (Booth et al 2003) Some of the significant questions needing to be explored included:

To what extent does the curriculum of teacher education encourage the development of inclusion?

What preparation and support do teachers need to implement inclusion?

How are barriers to learning and participation overcome in teacher education?

These and other questions are examined by these researchers within the contexts of several societies.

Whilst there clearly have been significant changes and developments that have benefited many disabled people, it is crucial to remember the disturbing statement of two disabled activists when considering the position and experience of disabled people globally. As Hurst and Albert (2006) maintain: has been repeatedly documented, access to full and equal participation has been denied disabled people in almost every country, helping to create conditions that result in them being among the poorest of the poor. At the same time, being poor is not only about being socially excluded but also makes people much more vulnerable to contracting a whole range of disabling impairments. Poverty and disability are in this sense locked in the embrace of a real dance of death. This is made far worse in developing countries in the South, where the failure of economic and social development is characterised by widespread and seemingly intractable poverty associated with wars and civil unrest, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of immunisation, inadequate health care, few safety provisions and pollution (pp29-30).

These very real inequalities and discriminations leave no room for complacency and the crucial need to give priority to the voices of disabled people and to encourage networking within and between different cultures, so that we can learn from one another in the pursuit of transformative change.


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Len Barton: From Exclusion to Inclusion: Barriers and Possibilities in Relation to Disabled Learners.

Institute of Education, University of London; Paper Presented at the Erasmus Mundus Conference in Prague. From 13th -16th March 2008-02-13.

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