International Day of Persons with Dis/abilities: Towards Communities of Belonging

December 03, 2022

In Canada and around the world, we seek communities where all belong. Belonging infers that difference is honoured, not feared, and represents the typical state of a universally diverse population. Communities of belonging envelop all difference, not just differences viewed traditionally as dis/ability. As we approach the International Day of Persons with Dis/abilities, it is important to celebrate the world’s progress toward creating communities of belonging as they relate to this historically abused and oppressed population. It is also important to remember that we are not alone in our focus, or efforts, as we strive for such communities in Canada and around the world.

While work to support inclusive education in some nations, such as Canada, has been ongoing for decades, the focus is relatively new in other contexts. On June 26, 2021, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a new law into effect concerning inclusive education in Kazakhstan. While inclusive efforts have been underway in Kazakhstan prior to this new law, the commitment to inclusive education is clearly a priority in the nation and further supports the protection of the rights of persons with dis/abilities.

Working partly through the support of a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, faculty members from SFU’s Faculty of Education as well as local practitioner partners have teamed with colleagues from Atyrau University in Kazakhstan (ASU) and Yarmouk University in Jordan to share experiences, strategies and insights into supporting the education of forcibly displaced children with dis/abilities. Already, this partnership is influencing practices in each of the three locations.

For example, ASU has been implementing “Kids University” for several years. The program brings children from the local community onto campus over several weeks in the summer to provide them with a university experience in an effort to ignite a passion to pursue advanced educational degrees later in life. Recently, ASU expanded access to this program, bringing children with complex displacement histories and diverse learning needs to join inclusively with their local peers. Such additions sparked an idea to expand a ‘summer reading camp’ experience at SFU run in coordination with an SFU course. The reading course expanded selection of local children in the SFU region to include newcomer children with diverse needs. In addition to more formal research, informal sharing of experiences such as these continue to inform how to support such complex children inclusively in both the Canadian and Kazakhstan contexts.

Beyond the research itself, the partnership has enabled sharing of multidisciplinary expertise across the locations more broadly with regard to inclusive educational practices. While each context is unique, ideas in one provide insights into the practices of others. Researchers from SFU have shared innovative arts-based strategies and research methods with Jordan and Kazakhstan partners, while Jordan and Kazakhstan have shared innovative psychologically based methodologies and experiences intended to support a trauma informed approach to helping complex children with displacement histories. It is important to note that rather than focusing on one ‘right’ way to teach inclusively and support multi-marginalized children, the partnership focuses on contextualizing insights shared by others in ways that support each local population.

“The project has supported insights into an inclusive future for children in Canada and Kazakhstan,” says Dr Aygul Sultangubyeva, ASU.

Partners and international experts from multiple universities will meet in Vancouver early next year. During a weeklong symposium, numerous subject matter experts and partners from Canada, the United States, Turkiye, Jordan and Kazakhstan will be exposed to our Canadian context while sharing progress and insights found so far in our combined research efforts. Later in the year, a delegation from each location will travel to the others to obtain additional contextual insights that will help place findings within such contexts to facilitate any appropriate cross site analysis.

“What we hope to achieve is simple. We want to better support children with complex learning needs inclusively while specifically focusing on those with displacement histories. This task is shared internationally and involves many disciplines,” notes Dr Robert Williamson, SFU Faculty of Education.

As we approach the International Day of Persons with Dis/abilities, this lens seems particularly appropriate.