Since Carla Mauch began working with the disabled at sixteen, she has been inspired by the possibility of living in a society that perceives “difference” as an asset, rather than a burden. Carla is doing this by promoting the rights of the disabled with a model that utilizes schools as catalysts for societal change.
The New Idea
Carla’s approach to diversity is non-traditional; in that, she perceives society as one whole, and does not separate the disabled from people of African descent, women, or youth. Through her organization, More Differences, Carla implements programs that utilize the laws of inclusion for the disabled as opportunities for companies and schools to not only adapt their routines and structures to meet their demands, but to also learn to value the multifaceted differences inherent in humans.
With a methodology of systematized intervention, Carla focuses her attention on schools; as an intersection between the public and private sectors of society. In Osasco, the municipality of this pilot program, 142 schools serve as centers of mobilization of community involvement and as disseminators of public policies in the areas of education, health, work, planning, building works, and leisure. Support networks for teachers and therapists, combined with reforms, family involvement, as well as other initiatives, are part of a systematic approach gaining national visibility through the creation of an inclusive Pro-Education Pact in partnership with the Brazilian Association of Municipalities.
Though Brazil’s cultural diversity is vast, society still struggles with many inequalities; some entrenched in social structures. Schools, for example, are central institutions that—according to the Brazilian Constitution—should ensure equal access. In reality, the education system focuses on serving an idealized student and as a result, excludes those who are different.
Any type of disability severely hinders one’s access to a high-quality education. Though approximately 24.5 million Brazilians (14.5 percent of the population) suffer from a visual, auditory, physical, or mental disability, these individuals do not always receive their guaranteed rights, particularly in the education system.
The Brazilian education system lacks an effective means to address complaints about schooling, and many students are mistakenly considered disabled and sent to Special Education Services while others are equally discriminated in programs of compensatory education. The dubious meaning of “Special Education” is further complicated by the law. Traditionally, this model has focused on educating students in specialized institutions, such as schools for the deaf, blind, or mentally disabled—all of whom lie outside traditional schooling. Carla believes this practice of segregation is harmful to the fabric of society; as it negatively accentuates difference. This situation perpetuates disrespect for the disableds’ right to education and does not value diversity. Efforts to make the education more inclusive have been strongly resisted by schools and specialized institutions, as well as by the parents of “normal” children—anxious the quality of their education will decline.
In schools, the policy of inclusion is limited only to the insertion of disabled students in the mainstream system. However, this innovation has the capacity to be an agent of positive change.
Carla is creating initiatives to provide universal and diverse education to all students and to bring the rights of the disabled to the forefront of municipal public policies. Her strategy is to transform the municipal school, which serves as a locus for socialization and dialogue between the public and private sectors. By changing the interaction and relationship of the schools with disabled children, she hopes to spark change.
Carla’s organization, More Differences, has implemented the Inclusive Education Program in 142 public schools in the Municipality of Osasco. The program includes the formation of Thematic Groups (made up of different Municipal Secretaries and employees from More Differences) to reflect on and propose actions concerning the inclusion of the disabled. The group discussions are meant to inform the Secretaries’ work while also encouraging speedy decision-making when working with the disabled. In Osasco, three Inter-Secretarial Groups have been formed with the Secretaries of Education and Building Works, Health, and Development and Labour.
In addition to the group work, Carla’s organization also focuses on training. Courses on issues related to the disabled and education are offered to municipal administrators, school directors, teachers, students, employees, and families. To date, more than 4,000 have participated in the courses.
This formative training is constant and Carla relies heavily on Communication and Information for its continuance. Communication is the primary means of promoting and disseminating the Program to guarantee the support and loyalty of the public authorities. To achieve this, Carla created a newspaper, Action and Inclusion, a primer Inclusion Training for school employees, and a publication, Inclusive Education: Of many wishes and few actions, along with support material for education professionals.
To ensure that the accomplishments in Osasco are definitive, Carla encourages the creation of administrative rules and establishing laws. To date, she has been directly responsible for two: The creation of the Inclusive and Special Education Nucleus and the procedural norms of the Classrooms to Support Inclusion (SAI). The latter supports students with disabilities attending “regular” schools to use Classrooms of Support to complement their studies, avoiding segregation in special schools. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of special schools—from 26 to 10—most now primarily serve students with severe disabilities.
Carla also connects her actions at the municipal level with the national, through the organization of two International Seminars on Inclusive Development, in partnership with the Special Secretary for the Disabled and Mobility Reduced (SEPED) and the Public Prosecutors Ministry. The seminars’ objective is to sensitize and strengthen the commitment of public administrations to inclusive public policies. Additionally, Carla works to train judges and prosecutors in issues related to the access of disabled children and adolescents to education.
Carla established a partnership with the Brazilian Association of Municipalities (which congregates 3,300 municipalities throughout Brazil) to work with candidates to include the rights of the disabled as a topic of interest in their 2008 campaigns. The first step was to mobilize civil society to create a Pro-Inclusive Education Manifesto, after which the candidates signed and committed to its implementation.
The foundation of Carla’s work is the inherent value she places in diversity. More Differences not only partners with organizations geared towards the disabled, but is also involved in national questions concerning diversity and human rights. Presently, Carla is developing projects with groups that fight for the rights of the elderly, GLBTT individuals, women, and rural workers, with the intention of furthering her cause as well as to encourage discussions on the necessity to appreciate and value “difference” within society.
Carla was born in the city of Pelotas, in South Brazil. Especially bright, she completed Junior School at thirteen: A year prior to most of her peers. After school, she discovered a passion to teach, and pursued a career in education. During her training, she interned at the Association of Parents and Friends of the Exceptional (APAE), where she worked as a volunteer for three years. Many of her friends and family disagreed with her decision, since only mothers and nuns worked at APAE, and they believed she was too talented to work with special needs children.
Carla was not discouraged and at eighteen, became a specialist teacher for the mentally disabled and began working at the first public municipal school for disabled students, Eliseu Paglioli. The school was geared towards rehabilitation rather than potential development, with their efforts focused on students they deemed “trainable.” During this time, Carla studied different teaching methods and realized that these students were not only trainable but could be educated if their potential was recognized and explored. Working with teachers and the Porto Alegre Secretary of Education, Carla implemented a series of different activities which, until that time, had not been undertaken with disabled children.
As the group advanced, Carla found that the more severely disabled group of students did not show the same advancements as the others. She chose to carry out a pilot project to include students on all three levels of development: The severely disabled, the trainable, and the educable. This heterogeneous class showed significant results, causing the school director to change all classes from that point forward to include students on all three levels.
After many years of valuable experiences and incredible growth at Eliseu Paglioli, Carla left to pursue her Masters Degree in Sao Paolo. After continuing her work to promote the inclusion of children, Carla founded, the Paradigm Institute, and designed projects of economic and educational inclusion. In 2005, due to different ideas within the Institute, Carla left the organization and began again. She founded More Differences—which has sixty collaborators today.