Archive for the ‘Inclusion’ Category

Our Worlds United –

Saturday, January 14th, 2012


Hi All

I have not being posting on this site for quite some time! The reason being that myself and Audrey are planning a new and exciting event to be held in the Phoenix Park on Saturday 8th September 2012.

This will be a festival and grand
celebration of disability in Ireland and the World. The venue is already booked
for that day.

We will host this event in conjunction with all of the
organisations in Ireland that act as advocates for people with disabilities and
the event is called
Our Worlds United. Over 40
organisations have already
‘signed up’ to be part of this event
including Down Syndrome Ireland, Special Olympics Ireland and Fragile X.

The Dublin
event will  cater for
people in the Phoenix Park

The objectives of
the event are many with the key objectives being:

1. To raise Awareness of Disabilities and their issues.

2.       To
all the Disability  representative bodies for 1 day with one voice.

3.       To ‘
Normalise’ or ‘mainstream’ disability i.e.  people’s special needs should
not define them

We expect
that it will be a day to remember and a defining moment in the history of Disabilities Advocacy.

The afternoon will  host live bands (we hope to get some or all of the
following: Boyzone, Westlife, Jedward, U2) , funfairs, face painting, music,
dance and games. It will also feature Speakers and contributors from around the
globe , and celebrity actor Colin Farrell
has already agreed to be our Keynote Speaker.

Fingal Community TV (FCTV) are making a documentary about the making of the
event – and filming has already begun.

But it gets even
– we have spoken with Vicki Graff and Gregory
Ruzzin-both of whom are professors at Loyola Marymount University in Los
Angeles –and they suggested that we run simultaneous events in LA, South
Africa, Hong Kong, UK and Finland. Vicki has already said it will happen in LA
and is confident that South Africa will also happen. It will be truly a Global Event.

Although there is a time difference we can synchronise a huge fire works
display simultaneously around the globe at a certain time – albeit it will be
the middle of the night for some venue/venues.

The event will be the culmination of a massive media campaign across all media
channels over the next 8 months.

We have already recruited a ‘small army’ of volunteers to help make this event
happen and we have an experienced  professional event management company
in place to deliver the day in conjunction with ourselves.

Please visit our website for further details.

We are currently securing financial backing for the event – and once this has been secured we can go public with the event- hopefully in the next few weeks.

If you or your organisation would like to get involved in any way with this initiative – we would be delighted to hear from you – as this is a huge undertaking and we will need as much input as possible from volunteers.

We hope that you will all attend the event – as ticket prices will be affordable – and it is not a fund raiser – but an AWARENESS raiser!

Off We Go!

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Off we go

My name is Avril Webster. I am married to Robert and we live in Limerick, Ireland. We have 3 children; Stephen, Michael and Rachel. Stephen has a rare severe developmental brain disorder (we have no other specific diagnosis).

Check out  for  the  YouTube video taken at the book launch of the first 6 books in the Off We Go! series in O’Mahony’s Limerick, in October 2007, I describe the story behind the books.

Like many children, Stephen finds it hard to cope with change in routine. We want to include Stephen in as many family everyday activities like going shopping or going swimming. Sometimes, it is hard to go out and do normal family things as Stephen gets scared and upset.

Stephen’s teacher and speech and language therapist suggested that we should use books to support Stephen to cope with new experiences. (We knew Stephen likes pictures and his scheduling board).

I went looking for simple clear books that would show Stephen what would happen and I could not find anything to suit his needs. So I started making my own books at the kitchen table.  With the help of Stephen’s teacher, speech and language therapists and other mothers, I have created the Off We Go! series.

I found that by preparing Stephen in advance and bringing the book with us, he was less scared and able to manage better. It soon became apparent that these books would help lots of children.

Initially I just used photographs for the pictures, but then through one of Stephen’s classmates Christia, I met my artist, David Ryley. He has drawn the pictures for this book and also created my logo which features Stephen and Christia.

While reading and actively using this book with all my children, I have found that we have not only enjoyed the intimacy and power of reading together, but it has also improved communication skills, language development and the children’s confidence and self-esteem.

The words used in these books are based on the actual words we use in our home. The speech and language therapist advised using language that Stephen would hear regularly. Please change the words to the ones you would use in your home.

I hope you enjoy the books and that you find them as useful as we do in our family.

Please let me know if you have any comments or thoughts,

Best wishes,


Message to Catholic Schools – Enforce Vatican Policy!

Sunday, December 19th, 2010




When setting up thsi website we did not think we would be quoting the Vatican – but they are absolutely and most definitely behind inclusion and this fact  should be highlighted to all Catholic Schools when or if they refuse entry to their school students who have disabilities.

Holy See Calls for “Inclusive” Education


Says Humanity More Important Than Efficiency


GENEVA, Switzerland, DEC. 3, 2008 ( <> The Holy See is calling for an “inclusive” education that goes beyond the principle of efficiency and respects the dignity of every human person.


This was the exhortation made by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer at the U.N. offices in Geneva, at the U.N. 48th International Conference on Education, held last Tuesday through Friday.


The archbishop affirmed that the Holy See “fully subscribes” to the idea that “a way to a future of peaceful coexistence, of mutual respect and enrichment by sharing the gifts of different cultures and traditions, comes through ‘education of all.’ Such an education takes into account the needs of every person and in particular the needs of the poor and most vulnerable, of people with disabilities, of rural and of city slums youth, of young people and adults, without any discrimination.”


The Holy See representative called to mind that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marking its 60th anniversary this year, includes the right to education, and notes that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.


“Inclusion works through the promotion of a society that respects the dignity of every human person and goes beyond criteria of efficiency,” he said. “The present financial crisis is a concrete lesson: Only the person that conceives relations with others beyond criteria of productivity and control can value reality in a balanced perspective and assume appropriate responsibility. This type of education is able to help forming individuals and new generations to social participation, to solidarity, to overcoming exclusion and to critically understand reality.”


Archbishop Tomasi also affirmed that educational institutions should “constitute an environment in which educators could answer to the affective and cognitive needs of the child, not only in transmitting information, but also in being relevant for the children in this delicate phase of their lives.”


Furthermore, he said, “educators should remain aware that they carry out their service in cooperation with parents, who are the first ‘educational agency’ and have the priority right and duty to educate their children.

This convergence of efforts is an evident application of the basic principle of subsidiarity.”

 The Holy See urged educational institutions to be places of “integral formation through interpersonal relations based on mutual respect and acceptance.”

 Citing Benedict XVI, he said that “an education would be most impoverished if it were limited to providing notions and information and neglected the important question about the truth, especially that truth which can be a guide in life.”

Thus, Archbishop Tomasi concluded, “an inclusive education embraces all children and youth in their existential context and all persons dedicated to their formation, a comprehensive process that combines transmission of knowledge and development of personality. [.] At its best, education provides everyone with the tools to contribute a creative participation in community, to reflect and give an appropriate answer to the unavoidable profound questions of meaning, to live with others, to discover one’s nature and inherent dignity as spiritual creatures.”

Inclusion : A work in progress in Kosovo!

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Very often reforms in the education system are slow and exhausting”

A brighter future – Children with special needs in Kosovo receive more education opportunities © UNICEF / Kosovo / 2010

Rehearsing for her performance Vjosa Asllani is 11 year old, and she has Down Syndrome. She is one of 105 students at the special school which is an annex to the regular primary school Naim Frasheri in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. She jumps from the stage where she is surrounded by her schoolmates and her teacher, and she says full of joy ‘I am going to be a queen, I am a queen’

Vjosa is rehearsing for her role at a theatre play which is prepared as part of special activities oranised during the spring school break. It’s the spring break, and as in many other places, schools in Kosovo are closed. The number of out of school activities are limited, but here at the Naim Frasheri school, there are around 200 children per day attending activities for two weeks during the break. They have theater performances, drawings, singing, sports and games which encourage positive thinking and attitudes and boost their learning potentials. Children are enthusiastically engaged in their activities, they compete and support each other, there are colorful drawings on the walls, and the sound of children’s singing and laughter echoes joyfully, breaking the silence of the grey, empty building.

Children with special needs in Kosovo had a grey past. They were often stigmatised by their peers and the community, they were kept hidden at home considered as the shame of the family. Education opportunities were almost non existent. Even today, many years after the reforms in the system were introduced, only around 10 per cent of children with special needs have access to any form of education. © UNICEF / Kosovo / 2010 Children in summer school activities getting ready for one of the games UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) to develop policies which enable friendly and inclusive environment for all children including children with special needs, but the implementation of those policies requires time and commitment by everyone. Activities such as the one in Naim Frasheri school are a model introduced by UNICEF, implemented by the NGO TEMA, and the aim is to expand that model in all special schools.

Ms. Lumnije Shala is the coordinator of the project at TEMA ‘During the whole school year we organise joint classes between children from the regular school and children from the special school. Teachers are now trained to deliver the classes with appropriate methods and children are getting used to each other. We have managed to integrate some of the children from the special school at the regular school, and we aim to make a systematic transition for as many children as possible. The spring activities are just one additional component, and this year we have had a tremendous interest by parents and children to participate in these activities,’ says Ms. Shala. This year, there are also many young graduate students from the education department who have volunteered for the summer activities at Naim Frasheri.

Rrahim Veseli, one of the young volunteers is amazed with the changes and transformation he has seen in some of the children. ‘This is an excellent experience for me. I wouldn’t exchange this job for any other type of job! I feel I can make a difference, I can introduce new methods, develop individual plans for children. We as teachers can create a lot of opportunities for children with special needs in the classroom’

 Parents’ participation in the education of children with special needs is crucial. Sanije Isufi is a mother who supports the organization of the out of school activities. Her daughter is also in the special school. At the closing day, after two weeks activities there is a short theater play and a singing performance. Parents like Ms. Isufi are asked to come and help in preparing the event. Ms. Isufi speaks with a lot of emotions ‘It’s difficult for me to explain how much these two weeks activities meant to me and my daughter. Most of all I am impressed with the support of my daughter’s schoolmates. At home she has the support of the family, but that is not enough. She needs to spend time with other children, she needs to socialize, she needs to learn from her peers too.’

The aim of the project is to support the national policy of inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream schools. Today, there are in total seven special schools and 70 attached classes all over Kosovo. Until now, three special schools have been transformed into resource centres, which offer multiple services for children with special needs and the plan is to transform all seven schools. Ms. Lulavere Kadriu the head of the Department for Special Education at the MEST says ‘The attitudes of parents have changed a lot. There are parents who knock on my door every day to ask for better quality of education for their children with special needs. This never happened until few years ago.

Parents are much more aware about the importance of education for the development of their children. They are much more demanding and ready to support in any form.’ Very often reforms in the education system are slow and exhausting. They require financial resources, commitment, capacities and changes in attitudes of teachers, administrators, parents and children themselves. These changes do not happen overnight and not always the results of the reforms are easily visible. But looking at Vjosa, and many other children with different special needs at the final day of the summer school activities in Naim Frasheri school indicates that the grey era is over, and that the future for children with special needs in Kosovo is much brighter. Vjosa is the lead character in the theatre play. She plays the Siren who will protect all innocent sea animals from the threats of the shark. She has had all the support from the teacher and her friends, to learn her text by heart. She comes to the stage dressed as a Siren, excited by the presence of the huge audience, she asks everyone to be quiet, she closes her eyes and says solemnly ‘I am the Siren – queen of the sea, I will save you all’.

Down Syndrome ” look at the person not the disability”

Sunday, September 26th, 2010



Breaking barriers: Reporter Michael Gannon with his mother, May. Picture: Ronan Lang

When Declan Murphy moved away from his home in Waterford to go to Trinity College in Dublin, he knew his mum was worried about him. Declan (33) has Down Syndrome, but that may not have been the entire root of mum’s concern.

“Well, I am the youngest of the family,” says Declan. “I think she missed me.”

Declan is part of an independent-minded, articulate generation of Irish people who have grown up with Down Syndrome but are refusing to be defined by it.

Big into politics,” he is one of a group of young adults with Down Syndrome who have been lobbying politicians as part of their ‘My Opinion, My Vote’ campaign to reform national policies that would help people with DS to attain their work, life and educational goals.

“I asked them for easy-to-read information in simple language and large fonts so we can learn about our rights,” says Declan. “We are Irish citizens, yet we aren’t able to get the same rights as everyone else.”

May Gannon, counsellor and drama-therapist with Down Syndrome Ireland, says that when Declan and other members of the group put their views to politicians from every party in Dublin last March, the legislators were “blown away” by their presentation.

“What they had were people with Down Syndrome telling them that when they opened the door to politicians canvassing, the politicians would say ‘Is your mum and dad in?’ rather than looking for their vote.”

Orla Hannon, a 23-year-old woman with Down Syndrome from Sixmilebridge in Co Clare, says she felt “strong and confident” when she gave the same presentation in Budapest and in Rome.

“We want to empower people with disability to participate in the political process,” she says. “We want the right to get proper education, and get jobs.”

Orla is devoted to books — she reads every night — and would like to work in a library. Her international political canvassing has given her a taste for travel. “I wouldn’t mind going to Denmark,” she says.

In essence, these are adults with dreams, ambitions and opinions. May Gannon’s son Michael, for example, says that although his outgoing personality means he feels people see beyond his Down Syndrome, that equality must become the norm.

“People need to look at the person, not the disability,” he says.

When journalist and broadcaster Brendan O’Connor wrote movingly about the birth of his new baby daughter Mary — who has Down Syndrome — in the Sunday Independent more than a week ago, he made special note of a piece of advice given to himself and his wife Sarah to “remember always that Mary is our baby, one half of each of us, and not a member of some tribe of Down’s people, a membership that sets her apart from us”.

This is absolutely vital for everyone to understand — not just those close to someone with DS, says May.

“People with Down Syndrome are as different from each other as the families they come from,” she says. “As to their ability level — they sometimes live up or down to the expectations of people around them.”

Pat Dorgan has more than lived up to the expectations of his family. The 46-year-old from Cork won two medals for Ireland in table tennis at the 2007 Special Olympics World Games in China and subsequently featured in a national poster campaign for the sport. His brother, the poet Theo Dorgan, composed a poem called My Brother for a pre-Games gala.

His sister Angela calls Pat “the glue that holds the family together”. Pat and those high-achieving adults like him are changing the perception of what a person with Down Syndrome can do. It’s a welcome progression, says Angela, from the condescension of old.

“A phrase that used to drive us mad as kids was, ‘Ah sure, God help us’,” she recalls. “People would ask us if he took sugar in his tea. We’d say: ‘Why don’t you ask him?'”

Similarly, 19-year-old Roisin de Burca from Connemara attracted positive attention last year when she became one of the few people with Down Syndrome to complete a full Leaving Certificate — and she did all her subjects through Irish. She then completed a FETAC course in Business Administration at Galway IT.

“I felt proud of myself, something I can accomplish in life, something that belongs to me alone instead of the family,” Roisin said last June after she won Bank of Scotland student of the year.

“We have moved from a time when people considered that a person with Down Syndrome was ineducable,” says May.

“Research tells us that there is nothing that can be delivered in a special school that can’t be considered in a mainstream school, given the proper supports.”

Getting access to this support — special-needs assistants, access to visual learning materials, speech therapy etc — is a cause of worry, however.

Just this month, Andrew Boyle, whose daughter Zoe (7) has Down Syndrome, challenged Education Minister Mary Coughlan on the withdrawal of Zoe’s special-needs assistance hours from 25 to five a week.

Pat Clarke, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland, says that most of the charity’s monies comes from fundraising initiatives like next month’s Honey Days.

As better medical care ensures that the average life expectancy of a person with Down Syndrome has increased dramatically, it has thrown up new long-term challenges in relation to accommodation, employment and living.

“Our expectations and the expectations of our children have moved on,” says Pat, whose son David (29) has Down Syndrome. “David’s out there in the community, he’s an excellent swimmer and has won a couple of medals for Ireland, he’s at Dundalk IT three days a week and works at Tesco. He has a blue belt in Taekwondo. He could live independently. We’re in the process of organising a housing association in our local area in Drogheda to do it.”

The fact that the one in every 600 babies born in Ireland with Down Syndrome can now expect an average life expectancy of anything between 55 to 65/70 years can be cheering and sobering at the same time.

Peter Gaw, founder of the Down Syndrome Centre, says: “You get the initial shock of the diagnosis and within hours you’re already thinking, ‘What’s going to happen when I’m not there?'”

Peter’s two youngest children, daughter Tara (11) and son Harrison (9), were both born with Down Syndrome. It is important, he thinks, that parents of children with Down Syndrome are given hope and told that “it’s not all doom and gloom”.

“You try to get back to as normal a life as you can,” says Peter. “My older two children are really good with the two young ones. We wouldn’t change our family.”

The Down Syndrome Centre now funds the country’s first Down Syndrome liaison nurse, who works out of the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght. She reassures and informs parents when their baby is born with the condition, helping them get through what Sheila Campbell, Chief Executive of the centre, calls the “miasma” of confusion and hurt.

Beyond that, integration into mainstream schools is crucial, says May Gannon: “We might never have known a person with Down Syndrome growing up, whereas now the younger generation will tell you about Mary or Joe ‘who is in my class in school and loves A, B and C’.”

Down Syndrome Ireland ( has 24 branches across the country. Their Boyne Valley Honey Days Campaign for October has pots of honey for sale for €2. is a wonderful resource for people with DS and their families. They have also launched the first online charity dress shop with

– Susan Daly

Irish Independent

The Class of 2010!

Saturday, July 24th, 2010


Nick Lanzi’s parents, Carolyn and Barry Lanzi, help their son prepare for graduation from Vestavia Hills High School Thursday. Nick Lanzi is among several students with special needs graduating from area high schools this spring after years in inclusive settings.(The Birmingham News / Joe Songer)

Don’t tell Nick Lanzi what he doesn’t know.

Don’t tell the new Vestavia Hills High School graduate what he can’t know.Because he knows better.

When doctors diagnosed Lanzi with Down syndrome when he was just a few days old, they told his parents he would never have intelligence surpassing that of a 3-year-old.

But when his 11th-grade American-history teacher passed him a copy of a test made specifically for “special needs” students, he asked for a “real” test instead.

He took it. He made a 96, the highest grade in the class. He made his parents, his teacher and everybody in the class proud.

Lanzi knows he is different. He just knows a different kind of different.

Lanzi, 19, is part of the first generation of special-needs students, including many graduating this spring, who have been taught in regular classrooms their entire time in school. Inclusion is a practice in which mentally or physically disabled students spend most or all of their time learning alongside typical students.

“Inclusion works best when you have a good team of administrators, special educators, good accepting classroom teachers and good peers,” said Carolyn Lanzi, Nick Lanzi’s mother. “He has benefited so much from inclusion, as much from the socialization as the academics. I’m not going to say we haven’t had stumbling blocks, but the parent has to be the advocate.”

Inclusion is a still-growing concept — one that’s been around since the 1970s, but became the norm only in the mid-1990s, advocates say. Research has shown that most physically and mentally disabled students do better academically and socially when with peers. Segregating a child from a regular classroom, research shows, may do nothing but harm the child’s self-esteem and hinder the learning process.

Enhanced settings

Advocates contend that children with disabilities can be successfully educated in regular classroom settings if the right aides and supplemental services are provided.

“There are much higher expectations and less assumptions when a special-needs child is in a regular classroom,” said Susan Ellis, community living coordinator for The Arc of Shelby County. Ellis’ own son, Matthew, has Down syndrome. “Certainly the social skills that come from inclusion are important as well. A lack of social skills is what prevents adults with severe disabilities from being successful.”

Special-needs students are placed in what is called an Individualized Education Program. It includes a written statement of special education and related services the child will need in order to be properly educated, as well as any modifications to the regular curriculum.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, as amended in 2004, does not require inclusion. Instead, the law requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment appropriate” to meet their “unique needs.”

Inclusion, advocates say, allows students with physical and mental disabilities to experience all aspects of regular school life.

If Lanzi is a measure, the process works.

Everyone at Vestavia Hills, it seems, knows Lanzi. During his four years of high school, he would walk the halls between classes high-fiving friends. He was inducted into the Student Government Association and was named Most Admired by his peers for Who’s Who among his senior class.

The story is much the same for Whitley Means Ware, a 20-year-old with Down syndrome who graduated from Carver High School on Tuesday night.

Not only was she in the regular classroom, allowing her to make friends and learn from her peers, but she was on the varsity cheerleading squad the last two years of high school.

“It helped a lot with her social skills,” said her mother, Brenda Ware. “She is so outgoing anyway, but being around others helped her with her communication skills. Everybody from the teachers to the custodians to the cafeteria workers know her and love her.”

That’s not to say that inclusion always works. It is up to parents and school administrators whether they want their child in a regular classroom setting or to be segregated in a special-education classroom. Many special-needs children do both.

Just ‘there in body’

Still, many schools simply place special-needs children in the back of a regular classroom and give them “baby work,” says Deborah Mattison, a Birmingham lawyer who specializes in special education and disabilities.

“A lot of times, kids can be dumped into a classroom with an aide, and the aide does all the work for them,” she said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. It’s about redesigning the curriculum to make it more functional for the child. Sometimes the child is there in body but isn’t really part of the class.”

When implemented correctly, she said, inclusion works. The social skills alone, she said, are invaluable.

“Oftentimes when these kids leave school, the only people who hang out with them are family members and people who are paid to be with them,” she said. “Inclusion allows these children to make friends, and that’s important.”

Special education has come a long way since the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975. Prior to that law, students with special needs were frequently not allowed to enroll in public school. The law was reauthorized over the years and was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Segregating special-needs children into separate classrooms or schools was common then, Ellis said. But that began to change in the 1990s, when research began showing benefits to inclusion.

While there still are children in segregated classrooms, inclusion is becoming the norm, especially since the No Child Left Behind law was enacted in 2001, Mattison said.

That law states that all children must be educated by highly qualified teachers and requires all students — regardless of their disabilities — to meet state goals on standardized tests.

That caused school systems throughout the country to turn their attention to children with disabilities, by developing and implementing strategies to move those students forward academically.

“Education has come so far,” Lanzi said, thankful for the advocates who she says paved the way for her son. “Unless they’re given the opportunity, you don’t know what they’re capable of. You can’t just close the door on them.”

Positive Attitudes – it all begins with Positive Attitudes

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

The following research conducted by the Special Olmpics strengthens the resolve of www.myspecialneeds to change attitudes at our conference on 7th October 2010 in Dublin- see tab on home page “Including Samuel” for more information!

positive attitduesimages

Attitude Research

Multinational Study of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities

Download the Multinational Study of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities General Findings report (147K Adobe PDF file)Download Spanish language version (140K Adobe PDF file)

Special Olympics-commissioned study validates the longtime struggle to change attitudes of stigmatization and the importance of inclusion

For decades, many have believed that the doors to inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities in mainstream society have been shut tight because of misconceptions, ignorance and fear. Now, those suspicions have scientific validation, according to a groundbreaking study released by Special Olympics.

The results are in on a major international study that, for the first time, documents how the general population across cultures view persons with intellectual disabilities, and how they should fit into society — views which have far-reaching, negative consequences for the more than 170 million individuals with intellectual disabilities worldwide. The study was conducted in 10 countries across the world, with 8,000 persons responding. On Friday, 20 June, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Multinational Study of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities was presented as part of the 2003 Scientific Symposium, held in association with the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games.


Our greatest hope is that this study will serve as the catalyst for a real and lasting change in the public’s attitudes toward the inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of society in every country on the planet.”
 – Timothy Shriver, Chairman

 Highlights of the Findings

  • 46 percent of those surveyed believe that persons with intellectual disabilities are capable of playing on a team with others with intellectual disabilities; while only 14 percent believe they are capable of playing on a team with players who do not have intellectual disabilities. However, those respondents who had an involvement with Special Olympics believed in more inclusion, and they expected less negative impacts from the inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities in all aspects of society.
  • 53 percent believe that the negative attitudes of others in society — their neighbors — also pose a major obstacle towards inclusion in society.
  • 74 percent of those surveyed believe that people with intellectual disabilities are capable of performing a simple task like sustaining a friendship;
  • 67 percent believe that people with intellectual disabilities can wash and dress themselves;
  • But, only 36 percent of the respondents believe that those with intellectual disabilities could perform more complex tasks, such as understanding a news event;
  • And, only 19 percent believe that people with intellectual disabilities could handle an emergency.
  • Additionally, 79 percent of the respondents agree that children with intellectual disabilities should be educated in a segregated setting, either in the home or in special schools, with the remainder believing that they should attend a regular school, either in special classes or inclusive classes.
  • 54 percent believe that the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace increases the risk of accidents.
  • 49 percent of the respondents believe that the best living arrangement for people with intellectual disabilities is in the home; 9 percent believe that institutions are the best; 17 percent believe that group homes are best; and only 25 percent believe that people with intellectual disabilities should live in either a supervised apartment or totally independently.
Researchers, family members and Special Olympics athletes came together at the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 19-20 June. An official event at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games, the Symposium featured 50 papers and workshops on a wide variety of subjects under the theme of “Supporting Families.” A highlight of the Symposium was the release of results from the Multinational Study of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities. Pictured (left to right) are Dr.Stephen Corbin, D.D.S., M.P.H., Dean, Special Olympics University; Rodney Hankins, Special Olympic New York athlete and International Global Messenger; and Jennifer Norris, Co-investigator, University of Mass., Boston Centre for Social Development and Education. [Photo by Naoise Culhane, Ireland Out]

“While the results of this survey were not surprising to those of us who have experience working and/or living with individuals with intellectual disabilities, we’re encouraged by the very telling results that those who had an involvement with Special Olympics had better attitudes toward individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said the Chairman of Special Olympics, Timothy Shriver. “Simply put, these results are unacceptable. But, it strengthens our resolve to expand the Special Olympics experience to new generations of athletes and volunteers throughout the world. Our greatest hope is that this study will serve as the catalyst for a real and lasting change in the public’s attitudes toward the inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of society in every country on the planet.”

Overall, the survey shows that the general population lacks an appreciation of the range of capabilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and therefore have low expectations of how much people with mental disabilities can achieve. The study also revealed that the world still believes individuals with intellectual disabilities should work and learn in separate settings, apart from people without disabilities. It is very important that the results be viewed in a global context, as cultural values and practices vary from country to country. Thus, country-to-country comparisons are unlikely to give an accurate representation of the true attitudes behind the results.

The goal of the Multinational Study of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities was to document the social acceptance level of individuals with intellectual disabilities worldwide. In particular, the study focused on: how the general population views the capabilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities; the extent to which they should be able to employ those capabilities in inclusive settings; and exactly how far average people believe that persons with intellectual disabilities should be integrated into everyday society.

It is hoped that this survey will spur individuals, families, educators, young people, healthcare professionals, employers, service providers, sports and community organizers, and government leaders to address what can be done to promote the inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities in every segment of society. Suggestions include: more volunteerism with groups/organizations affiliated with the intellectually disabled, identifying and erasing attitudinal misconceptions of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and better education across all sectors of society as to what capabilities individuals with intellectual disabilities truly possess.

Commissioned by Special Olympics, the two-year study, led by Dr. Gary Siperstein of the University of Massachusetts Boston, is the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted on this subject, reporting how people across the world view the roles and capabilities of persons with intellectual disabilities in the workplace, the classroom and in daily social life. The results will help researchers and laypeople alike better understand and document evidence of public perceptions and negative attitudes which millions of individuals with intellectual disabilities struggle with each and every day.

“By exposing the often latent beliefs of ordinary people towards individuals with intellectual disabilities, scientists, educators, social service workers, parents, friends and many others will be better equipped to combat the negative stereotypes exposed by this research. They will also be better equipped to encourage and grow the positive beliefs,” said Dr. Siperstein. “It is striking that, compared to the general public, Special Olympics families demonstrate much more positive attitudes toward the capabilities of persons with intellectual disabilities and their inclusion in society.”

“One of the greatest challenges persons with intellectual disabilities face is overcoming the barriers to inclusion in society,” said Shriver. “For many years, the athletes, volunteers and family members of the Special Olympics movement have known that the attitudes and expectations of the public determine the degree to which children, adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities are able to learn, work and live alongside their peers without intellectual disabilities. Through this study, we now have conclusive and scientific confirmation of this long-held belief.”

The study uncovered a definite presence of negative attitudes — both within and across the countries surveyed — toward persons with intellectual disabilities. It also demonstrates the relationship between public attitudes toward intellectual disabilities and the practices within countries that impact the quality of life of these individuals. Attitudes, beliefs and expectations are, in part, influenced by the distinct cultural norms, values and variety of resources and services that are available.

 Overview of Results:


  • 78 percent believe that a lack of school resources presents a major obstacle towards inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities in the classroom).
  • 78 percent believe that the lack of teacher preparedness presents a major obstacle to inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities in the classroom.
  • 66 percent believe that the negative attitudes of other students present a major barrier to inclusion in the classroom.
  • 53 percent believe that persons with intellectual disabilities pose a safety risk to others in the classroom.
  • 53 percent believe that inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities into regular schools will impede the learning of the other students.
  • 53 percent believe that including children with intellectual disabilities in the regular classroom will likely create discipline problems.


  • 76 percent believe that the lack of job training programs for persons with intellectual disabilities presents a major obstacle towards their inclusion in the workplace.
  • 61 percent believe that the negative attitudes of other workers present a major obstacle towards inclusion in the workplace, as well.
  • 51 percent of the respondents believe that persons with intellectual disabilities should work in either skilled or unskilled positions, with the remainder believing they should either not work or should work in a special workshop.
  • 50 percent believe that inclusion also will reduce the productivity of the other workers.


  • 67 percent believe that the public’s beliefs about the limitations of individuals with intellectual disabilities interacting in public pose a major obstacle to their inclusion in society.


  • 46 percent of those surveyed believe that persons with intellectual disabilities are capable of playing on a team with others with intellectual disabilities; while only 14 percent believe they are capable of playing on a team with players who do not have intellectual disabilities.


  • 27 percent believe that persons with intellectual disabilities receive better health care than the general population, while 39 percent believe they receive the same treatment and
  • 34 percent believe they receive worse treatment.

Media Portrayals:

  • 54 percent believe that negative media portrayals of persons with intellectual disabilities pose a major obstacle to their inclusion in society.

Across every continent, the survey shows that each individual’s image of people with intellectual disabilities affects the degree to which they believe persons with intellectual disabilities should be included in society. A curious finding is that most respondents believe that it is others’ attitudes about persons with intellectual disabilities — and not necessarily their own — that affect how persons with intellectual disabilities are included in general society. This was found in respondents’ answers across the three areas of work, school and community. They also feel that the lack of resources affected inclusion across the three areas.

“The results of this survey show that while there has been some progress in changing the public’s perception of the abilities of persons with intellectual disabilities, there is still much work to be done. Special Olympics will continue to be at the forefront in creating this change, helping individuals with intellectual disabilities to better experience life and the joy of sport,” said Shriver.

“We continue to challenge educators, employers, health care professionals and the public at large — worldwide — to introduce new opportunities for inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities, and, once and for all, to dispel the myths surrounding their capabilities,” he continued.

About the Study:

Special Olympics and the Center for Social Development and Education collaborated with the Gallup Organization, Research and Evaluation Services of Northern Ireland and Center for Survey Research on the creation of the survey. It was conducted in 10 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Republic of Ireland, Russia, UK (Northern Ireland) and the United States. Sampling of the public was random, and respondents were selected from either a nationwide pool or from selected cities. The approximate sample size was 800 of the general public of each country, and 200 people from Special Olympics convenience samples of “family members” in Japan and the United States. The survey was administered either over the telephone or in face-to-face interviews. The margin of error is plus or minus three percent.

Inclusion or Illusion?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

a studyThe first comprehensive nationwide study of national and special needs schools, reviewing education for primary school children with mild general learning disabilities and detailing the adequacies and shortcomings of the present system, was recently launched in Trinity College Dublin.( May 2009)



The book, entitled Inclusion or Illusion, is a comprehensive study of pupils with mild general learning disabilities, who are educated in mainstream and special classes in national schools and designated special needs schools throughout Ireland. These students form the largest section of Ireland’s special needs education population. Authors, Professor  of Education, Mona O’Moore of Trinity College Dublin’s School of Education and Dr Paul Stevens, School Principal of Scoil an Chroí Ró Naofa, Castletownbere, Co Cork, gathered data from over 900 teachers between 1989 and 2007 for this research.



The study illustrates improvements in school facilities, educational resources and an increase in the number of special needs teachers all directly attributable to government investment. Equally, the study identifies serious difficulties within the education sector, associated with systemic issues of inadequate capacity, structural deficiencies and unaddressed anomalies which are multi-faceted, intangible and complex. These include poor levels of inclusive practice, inappropriate pupil placement, and a severe lack of access to appropriate support services.



Based on teachers’ own experiences and combined with a history of state policy in the area of special needs education the book assesses the developments that have been made in this field so far, what the barriers are to progression, and what can be done to overcome these. 

“Special education is currently a key issue for society and the Government. The aim of this book is to provide readers with an understanding of educational provision in Irish primary schools for children with Mild General Learning Disabilities (MGLD)”, stated Professor Mona O’Moore. “More than half of the school-going special needs population falls into this category making this book an invaluable resource for teachers, student teachers, policy makers as well as educational and support professionals.”

Lusk National School – absolutely inspirational!

Monday, November 30th, 2009

” Each school should be a community collectively accountable for the success or failure of every student. The educational team, rather than the individual teacher, should share the responsibility for the education of special needs children. Parents and volunteers should be invited to take an active part in the work of the school. Teachers, however, play a key role as the managers of the educational process, supporting children through the use of available resources both within and outside of the classroom.” Salamanca Statement.

Lusk Natioanl School are a shining example of the Salamanca Statement being put into practice. It embraces and embodies the principles of the Statement and is an example to all schools. My son’s experience in this school is a joy to behold and he is absolutely thriving within the school. There is no reason why Lusk National School cannot become a beacon for change and ensure that all schools offer a truly inclusive education.

New Thinking in Special Needs Education!

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

“Within inclusive schools, children with special educational needs should receive whatever extra support they may require to ensure their effective education. Inclusive schooling is the most effective means for building solidarity between children with special needs and their peers. Assignment of children to special schools – or special classes or sections within a school on a permanent basis – should be the exception, to be recommended only in those infrequent cases where it is clearly demonstrated that education in regular classrooms is incapable of meeting a child’s educational or social needs or when it is required for the welfare of the child or that of other children.”

Salamanca Statement