Stories from the Field
Edited By David J. Connor and Beth A. Ferri
15. Searching for Competence: (T)reading the Spaces between Ways of Knowing
“A movement … A fight for freedom …. A statement of faith.” Excerpted from its own homepage, these words describe the school where I, strangely enough, came to first encounter both special education and disability rights. My career as a special educator began in Chennai, India, at a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that actively espoused a rights model on disability matters over the widely prevalent charity-based residential model at that time. Like many start-up NGO’s that had to first prove they were functional units (i.e. did not need government assistance) before they could apply to the state for assistance, my first school was situated within a garage in the home of a child with significant multiple disabilities who would become my first student. His mother, who started the NGO, was my first employer and mentor in disability rights, family empowerment, and child-centered supports.1 That garage became the hub of therapeutic and educational services, delivered on site and in homes to scores of children and their families from both urban and rural areas who returned each day, each week, to understand what disability could mean for themselves their children.
My beginnings as a special educator, then, were already soaked in the activities of inclusion—drawing families into processes of educational decision-making, making services available to children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, serving multiple forms of disabilities, and simultaneously building a community amongst activist educators in a culturally conservative context. My recollections of the journey I have taken...
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