I met Mozart on my way out of Vienna. He greeted me at the airport, in full 18th century attire, and invited me to buy Mozart chocolate. It pains me to admit that, having spent three days in the city where Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn and Schubert were born, worked, or died, this was the closest I got to its cultural heritage. And yet I was leaving happy. Beyond happy: elated!
It was the Zero Project conference that had taken me to Vienna. Over 500 participants from over 70 countries, all wholeheartedly committed to the full inclusion of disabled children and young people. That’s it. Full stop. No “as long as…” and no “but only for…”. These were all people who understand that, in the 21st century, the expectation is for education to transform, so that schools can respond to the full diversity of learners. There was nobody attempting to argue that children have to fulfil certain criteria in order to be allowed into their local school. And there was nobody talking as though our differences are more important than our similarities. How refreshingly wonderful to be among so many people who share a vision and a passion for inclusion!
With too many parallel sessions it was impossible to hear every presentation, but what I managed to attend was a real treat! Here is a flavour: I heard how unprecedented government investment in inclusive education in New Brunswick, Canada, has led to 100% of students attending their local school. I heard how, embracing the principle that inclusive education benefits all, has led to a 54-hour course being incorporated into Initial Teacher Education in Ukraine. And I heard how, in the UK, the RNIB initiative Load-2-Learn is harnessing technology to make thousands of books available to those who have difficulty accessing printed text.
And if all this was not enough, CSIE won an Innovative Practice Award for its work on “Equality: Making It Happen”! Here is how the Zero Project summed up our collaborative work: The project has worked with schools to create a guide to help educate people on issues of prejudice. Precise and accessible reference cards covering all aspects of equality and school life offer key information, practical advice, suggested activities, examples of good practices, equality monitoring tools, and sources for further information and support.
The memory of it all still sustains me and I still walk with a spring in my step! Which is precisely why, on this occasion, I really did not mind letting Vienna’s cultural heritage pass me by; even if it was Mozart himself offering me his own brand of chocolate at the airport.