• Louise Harris

Sowing the seeds for an inclusive future

Last month I met with my local authority to discuss accessibility planning for the city as part of my volunteer work. With a rising number of children having special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), local authorities recognise the importance of assessing and planning our education infrastructure with their needs in mind. A key question was whether to build another specialist school or support mainstream schools with additional facilities.

Now without doubt this is not a straightforward “one-size-fits-all” topic. We live in an age where people are slowly beginning to understand the complex nature of disabilities – not all disabilities are the same and people with disabilities should not all be categorised as such. However, schools still seem to be struggling with this, with little incentive to provide the support needed to meet a range of complex needs and government cuts making this harder than ever. Last year the Department for Education figures showed that 4,152 children and young people with SEND were left without a school place – up from 776 in 2010.

In my humble opinion – and not wanting to downplay an extremely complex matter – in an ideal world the answer would be fairly straightforward. Not only is it cheaper to support children with SEND in mainstream schools, but it also helps integrate children – leading to normalised feelings towards disabilities and resulting in inclusive thinking as a standard set from childhood.

By putting children together with a variety of needs and abilities, schools can promote tolerance and understanding from a young age, preventing bias and creating an understanding of the needs of everyone in our societies. And wouldn’t it be even better if businesses did the same?

Last week I presented to 60 MBA students at Warwick University Business School on the topic of creating an inclusive society. The students were from a variety of backgrounds, careers, ages and nationalities and are set to be our future business leaders.

We discussed the ways businesses are rising to the challenge of creating accessible services that meet the needs of customers and staff with disabilities… and why it matters.

The students completely embraced their part in creating an inclusive society and the value of diversity in the workplace. I hope that as employers, employees and service providers they will recall our discussions and the way that they embraced that it is everyone’s responsibility to support a world where age, background, disability or other additional need is not a barrier to participation.

For my part, my takeaway from these discussions is that if we can remove the stigma of disabilities for our young people today – we can succeed in achieving an inclusive society tomorrow.

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