Tom Jennings appreciates this snapshot of a campaign against the segregation of disabled people.
Anti-Ability Apartheid. DVD review – Tom Jennings
This thought-provoking third ‘London Counterculture and People Power of the Nineties’ DVD (see review of Nos. 1-2 in Freedom, 17 June 2006) documents members of a grass-roots organised network around disabled people, parents and children arguing against the mainstream education system excluding all sorts of kids – often against their express will, but with practical alternatives unavailable – and shunting them into ‘special’ institutions. However enlightened the latter are (usually quite the opposite, being even more badly-resourced), this segregation inevitably stigmatises and seriously damages socialisation and life-chances as well as reinforcing ignorance and prejudice in wider society. Yet despite considerable evidence that – when it’s done properly – including those with disabilities and emotional and behavioural difficulties into ordinary schools enriches the lives of all concerned, established professional and political parties consistently avoid countenancing its general application even while paying lip-service to UN and EU human rights conventions and accords.
The four crisply-shot and edited sections here include short introductions by AllfIE campaigners, film of their 1998 London protest successfully occupying the Department of Education, stages of a 2003 ‘consultation’ exercise where DoE bureaucrats politely ignored everything they said, and a final interview with founder Micheline Mason. Overall, Creating a Movement illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of ‘single-issue’ efforts, however noble. Clearly this is an extensive, growing patchwork of individuals, families and initiatives building active links, nourishing each other’s courage and capacity to confront indifferent authority – and I’d have liked more about their autonomous activity not revolving around immediate demands on the State. Otherwise it might seem that tail-ending the twists and U-turns of government spin can leave you on a hiding to nothing, especially given the current tick-boxing orthodoxy chasing narrow ‘employability’ skills for disappearing jobs as the pedagogical benchmark of official human worth.
Nevertheless, despite severe logistical odds, this group generates from specific sufferings a general critique of the ways social hierarchies divide and dominate us all. With no unctuous PC pretentiousness – no doubt helped by its leading lights being articulate working-class folk – the most moving passages in the interview and potted life-history accounts by younger and older diversely-abled proponents convincingly expand individual questions of discriminatory injustice into ultimate meanings of human solidarity and community. This contrasts with the summary dismissiveness of a catalogue of arrogant expertise failing to seek or take account of the lived experience of those whose fate they pronounce on – whereas the development of AllfIE demonstrates the tangible collective benefits of respect for difference irrespective of abstract moral imperatives. As Micheline Mason implies, such work prefigures a vision of liberation for a world “in which exclusivity is not an organising principle, a society in which all people are brought up to live well together”.
Creating a Movement is available for £7 incl. p&p, from the Alliance for Inclusive Education, 336 Brixton Road, London SW9 7AA, tel: 0207 737 6030, or online at www.allfie.org.uk.
Review published in Freedom, Vol. 70, No. 6, March 2009.
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