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Buddies build a bridge to disabilities in school
August 18, 2010 – 3:00AM
Harmanjot Kaur is not sure what her best friend Bree Grisedale’s intellectual disability is because ”frankly, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
They are among 150 sets of ”buddies” who make up Best Buddies Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that pairs an intellectually disabled person with an able buddy to spend time together, whether playing video games or shopping.
Mark Trevaskis believes there are no organisations like his. He asked the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care for $1 million this year to expand around the state but received $150,000, barely enough to continue operating.
”It’s really simple friendship stuff, it’s not mentoring,” he said. ”It’s innovative but I think government and corporates struggle with the idea. Normally a case manager doesn’t advocate a friendship but we’re very clear that we work in that area. We sit in a grey area so it’s difficult to get funding.”
Bree, 15, and Harmanjot, 13, go to the movies together, have sleepovers and ”just talk about everything to each other,” Bree said. ”If I have some problems I can go to her and she helps with my homework, too. It helps me mix with other people.”
Mr Trevaskis believes Best Buddies has an important role to play in the state government’s social inclusion agenda.
The education of disabled and special needs children in mainstream schools has been hotly debated lately.
Up to 15,000 students with disabilities and 50,000 students with learning needs are taught in mainly mainstream classes in NSW. Government policy has emphasised greater integration but teachers gave evidence to a NSW upper house inquiry last month that they were failing to meet the needs of all their pupils because of the unmet demands of integrated students.
”Integrated schooling is a great way to acknowledge the needs of people with a disability but just because you stick a person beside someone who doesn’t have a disability, doesn’t mean they will integrate,” Mr Trevaskis said.
”You notice it best at recess and lunch and after school. The kids with the intellectual disabilities will congregate. Our program provides a bridge. We think if you’re going to integrate, let’s integrate properly.”