Reimagining Inclusion: Rethinking Special Schools and Supported Accommodation for People with Disabilities

The recently released recommendations by the Disability Royal Commission have sparked intense debate regarding the future of special schools and supported accommodation for individuals with disabilities. While some commissioners advocate for the closure of these services on the grounds of promoting inclusion, others argue that these specialized institutions are essential for meeting the unique needs of the severely and profoundly intellectually disabled community.

As the family of a man with profound intellectual and physical disabilities, we strongly challenge the characterization of special schools as “segregation.” Our son, David, who was diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange syndrome, depends on constant one-to-one care and has limited functional abilities. Concepts like integration and independence are incomprehensible to him. Yet, despite his challenges, he finds joy and contentment in the environment provided by Karonga, a special school in Sydney.

Special schools like Karonga offer individualized programs that cater to the diverse needs of students with intellectual disabilities. These institutions provide crucial support in areas such as learning, behavior management, medical care, therapy, and community engagement. The term “segregation” grossly misrepresents the experiences of students attending these schools and disrespects the dedicated educators, caregivers, administrators, and families who form inclusive communities around them.

One of the arguments against special schools is the belief that attending these institutions increases the likelihood of ending up in a sheltered workshop or with limited living options as an adult. However, it is erroneous to assume a causal relationship between attending a special school and limited opportunities later in life. The reality is that individuals with severe disabilities are inherently less likely to participate in regular work or have independent housing due to the nature of their impairments.

For our son and many others in similar circumstances, access to specialized education within a supportive community has resulted in improved educational, social, and health outcomes. It is not a form of segregation or discrimination but rather a necessary environment that meets their unique needs and nurtures their holistic well-being.

The notion that a single individual with a specific disability can speak for the entire disability community is oversimplified and misguided. Disability encompasses a wide spectrum of challenges, each with varying levels of severity. Presumptuously assuming a universal perspective fails to acknowledge the diverse interests and capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

While promoting inclusion and representation is important, we must ensure that progressive activism does not undermine the hard-won gains achieved by generations of individuals with the severely intellectually disabled. Removing specialized education and housing options for this population would not foster inclusion; instead, it would curtail their opportunities for community connection and well-being.

We, as a family, have firsthand experience navigating life with a severe intellectual disability. We firmly believe that preserving access to special schools, community groups, respite care, and suitable housing options is crucial for the overall enrichment, diversity, and understanding of disability in society.


What is the Disability Royal Commission?

The Disability Royal Commission is an Australian government inquiry that aims to investigate and address instances of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disabilities.

Why are special schools and supported accommodation for people with disabilities controversial?

The controversy surrounding special schools and supported accommodation stems from the differing views on inclusion and the best way to support individuals with disabilities. Some argue that these institutions promote segregation, while others contend that they provide necessary specialized care and support.

Are special schools beneficial for individuals with intellectual disabilities?

Special schools can be highly beneficial for individuals with intellectual disabilities, as they offer tailored programs that address specific needs and provide a supportive and inclusive community. These institutions prioritize the holistic well-being of students and contribute to improved educational and social outcomes.

What is the concern regarding the closure of special schools?

The concern with closing special schools is that it may limit the opportunities and support available to individuals with intellectual disabilities. Special schools provide a unique environment that caters to their specific needs and fosters their overall development and inclusion within the community.