Written By Mark Arnold, Additional Needs Ministry Director, Urban Saints
One in five young people and young adults have additional needs of some kind, including over 17% of home higher education students, yet many people, including lots of professionals, struggle to understand the best ways to be inclusive when engaging with them. So, here’s a great model to follow:
ASK and BE
An important starting point for engaging with students with additional needs is to work ‘with’ them and not ‘about’ or ‘for’ them. So often, people with additional needs can have inclusion ‘done unto’ them poorly by well-meaning people who could have done things so much better if only they had asked. By using the simple ASK and BE approach below, the input students with additional needs can provide will help us all to know the best way to journey with them and support them. It recognises that helpful phrase to remember “Nothing about us, without us.”
A. Ask – Simply ask. Get in touch with students with additional needs and ask them to help you to get this right. Tell them that you really value their input and that together you can make a difference. You might have to apologise if you haven’t sought their input before or have ignored their previous suggestions. Ask them what barriers and difficulties they have experienced, there will probably be some you haven’t thought of, and agree to work on removing them together.
S. Seek – What solutions can they think of? Are there ideas that have been helpful for them in other settings, e.g. at school before they entered higher education, at home, other clubs or activities that they participate in, that could be adapted to work in your context? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, there is likely to be a perfectly good one rolling along elsewhere in the life of a student with additional needs!
K. Know – Learn ‘the knowledge’ directly from students with additional needs themselves. They are subject matter experts about their additional needs and know most about their best ways of experiencing and navigating a safe and successful way through the world. They will have a wealth of knowledge to share that can help us in our context, let them be our guide!
Once we have ASKed, then we are then better equipped to BE.
B. Back up – Back up and advocate for students with additional needs, be their ally, call out bad practice when students with additional needs aren’t supported or are excluded, help to amplify their ‘voice’.
E. Encourage – Work alongside students with additional needs to encourage change, to identify, reduce and remove barriers, to change culture, to help others to join with you in creating inclusion and belonging for all.
So, whether you are a fellow student, an education professional, a family member or friend, or someone else who is journeying with and supporting students with additional needs, let’s recognise how difficult the last two years in particular have been for them, let’s apologise for when we’ve sometimes got it wrong, let’s ASK them to help us to get it right, and let’s BE backing them up and encouraging others to help bring about lasting change in the future!