September: in these days, school gates open again all over Italy and, among the students sitting at the desks, there are also more than 235 thousand with a disability (about 3% on the total), almost equally distributed among nursery school, primary school, grammar school and high school. But is the school ready to welcome and support them, so that they can fully exercise their right to education?
Italy is the leading country for school inclusion of disabled students, to the extent that, at the beginning of 2016, it received an official recognition by the UN. Indeed, while they are still present in countries such as Spain and Germany, here in Italy the so-called “special classes” (real ghettos inside the “normal” schools, where students with physical or cognitive disabilities and those who experienced another kind of disadvantage were enclosed) are, now (and luckily), just a past thing, since they were abolished in 1977, when new flexible educational models were introduced, aiming to promote the integration among all the students, beyond their peculiarities, using, where needed, also specialized teachers. The 104/92 law further emphasized the importance of integrating the disabled students of all levels into normal classes.
A long way has been walked also as regards removing architectonical barriers, during the years, with more than 80% of schools having stairs and bathrooms suitable for physically disabled people. Things get slightly worse when we look at expedients for sensory disabled people and accessibility of internal and external spaces: only 30% of schools, as a matter of fact, are equipped with visual, acoustic and tactile signage, while a little bit more than 40% has easily accessible paths.
Another not exactly rosy chapter regards those who’d assist students with particularly severe disabilities and special needs teaching assistants, who are essential to ensure access to didactics and inclusion to students with cognitive disabilities. Every year, punctually, there’s a raging controversy because they’re not enough to ensure adequate assistance to all the students who would need it. Unfortunately, there are also issues about their training, often inadequate to the specific needs of the students they’d be supposed to assist. Not to mention the fact that, if being a teacher, more than just a job, is a matter of vocation (or a real “mission”, as some say), that’s even more so for those who, due to their specific role, have to deal with particularly tricky students, often unable to collaborate: without a proper training and if they live their role just as a way to “earn money”, it’s easy to get discouraged, leave students to their own devices, contributing to ghettoize them, instead of including them into the school system, which is the fundamental harbinger of their full and successful inclusion in the community.