Inclusive Education for Children Labeled with Disabilities as a Fundamental Capability

Dalkilic, Maryam; Vadeboncoeur, Jennifer (2016). 'Inclusive Education for Children Labeled with Disabilities as a Fundamental Capability' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Amartya Sen’s (1985) Capability Approach is a theory of justice that assesses inequality in social arrangements. Sen (1992) proposed that justice should be evaluated in the space of capabilities: the actual freedoms that people have to obtain the functionings that are constitutive of their well-being. When justice is evaluated within parameters of capabilities, the role of social arrangements becomes expanding individuals’ capabilities by providing the resources needed for them to choose their functionings, or the activities and states of being that are valued given personal, social, and/or cultural reasons (Alkire, 2011). This approach has a range of implications for matters of justice, including the centrality of diversity, the necessity of agency, and the recognition of context and culture in social institutions (Taylor, 2011). Education, and specifically the education of children labeled with disabilities, is a social institution to further consider from the perspective of a Capability Approach (Reindal, 2009; 2010; Terzi, 2005; Underwood, Valeo, & Wood, 2012).
Despite developments over the last two decades in relation to providing more children labeled with disabilities the opportunities to exercise their right to actively learn and democratically participate in classrooms among their peers, compelling arguments have been articulated advancing the perspective that the theoretical foundations of inclusive education render it a marginalizing institution nonetheless (Christensen & Dorn, 1997; Graham & Slee, 2006; Underwood et al., 2013). A number of issues have been identified within contemporary inclusive education discourses, such as the dominance of universalist perspectives and the dismissal of context and culture in educational practices, the pathologization of children’s diversity through individually-based perspectives on disability, and an educational approach focused on the identification of needs, rather than the expansion of agentic actions (Allan, 2010; Artilles, Harris-Murri, & Rostenberg, 2006; Baglieri, Valle, Connor, & Gallagher, 2011; Danforth & Naraian, 2015; Dunne, 2008; Mitra, 2006; Reindal, 2015; Slee, 2015). These issues stem from the theoretical foundation of inclusive education and result in classrooms wherein children labeled with disabilities are stripped of their agency and/or their freedom to exist as diverse individuals in a democratic community. As these issues result, in part, from the theoretical foundation of inclusive education, we need a different theoretical approach for inclusive education (Terzi, 2005; 2014).
To this end, we examine several ways in which an approach informed by capabilities has the potential to guide the just design of educational arrangements for the inclusive education of children labeled with disabilities among their non-disabled peers. Shifting from meeting needs of children labeled with disabilities to expanding their capabilities, an inclusive educational setting that attends to capabilities expands the actual space of freedom that children labeled with disabilities have to choose and achieve valued functionings that are components of their wellbeing, thus, equalizing this space of freedoms with those of their peers (Norwich, 2014).
Divided into four sections, this paper begins with the notion of justice as conceptualized by Sen (2009), in his work The Idea of Justice, and moves to an analysis of inclusive education as a matter of justice. This analysis problematizes the conceptualization of justice within which the notion of inclusive education is currently situated—transcendental institutionalism—and reframes inclusive education through a comparative realization-focused conceptualization of justice. Second, the paper examines the three significant issues of inclusive education raised by critical scholars in disability studies in education (DSE), namely 1) universalist approaches to inclusive education, 2) the model of disability guiding contemporary inclusive education policy and practices, and 3) the pacifying need-based language of current theories of inclusive education. These issues are addressed through reimagining the theory of inclusive education framed in a Capability Approach. Third, this paper presents the model of relational inclusion (Dalkilic & Vadeboncoeur, 2015; in press) to discuss the ways that a capabilities informed approach can be translated to educational practice, to provide children labeled with disabilities more opportunities to be agents in their learning and to participate in decisions that matter in their lives. The model of relational inclusion provides a practical frame for contextualizing democratic practices of inclusive education, with an emphasis on collaborative effort among educators, parents, and children. While discussing the promises of the Capability Approach through the relational inclusion model, this section also engages with the potential challenges that this framework poses for policymakers, practitioners, and families. Fourth, the paper concludes by providing directions for future educational research.

scroll to top