Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh
By Spencer van Vloten
July 30th, 2021
Board President of Inclusion BC and faculty member in Kwantlen Polytechnic University's department of sociology, Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh has spent decades working to build inclusive schools and communities that welcome people of all abilities, and recognize their strengths.
Spencer van Vloten talked with Fiona about a range of issues, including her involvement in a historic BC project, how to make education truly inclusive, and what her favourite inclusion themed films are.
Spencer: Tell us about yourself and your background in disability issues
Fiona: In my late 20s I started working in a segregated Toronto school for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
At the time I thought it was great, and after working there a few years I moved to BC and began working in a group home.
Then in the late 80s I got a job in BC’s first project to mainstream children with intellectual disabilities into neighbourhood schools, and it was such an eye opening experience.
Having worked in segregated and inclusive classrooms, I saw that being in a class with other children who didn’t necessarily have disabilities was so powerful for students with intellectual disabilities.
Having worked in segregated and inclusive classrooms, I saw that being in a class with other children who didn’t necessarily have disabilities was so powerful
I worked with one boy in particular. He was non-verbal, but all the students loved him. Boys hung out with him and bought him birthday gifts, girls cared for him, and as a result his communication skills developed rapidly.
I'd also support him in the community, going to the pool or movies, and just being out there and included made such a difference.
After working in BC for a bit, I returned to Ontario, had my daughter, and went to university. I took my first sociology course, fell in love with it, and eventually got my PhD and now teach here in BC.
Spencer: To what extent does the mindset of institutionalization and segregation still exist in BC?
Fiona: It’s still there.
Look at Harmony not passing---however they try to dress it up, what’s actually being said is ‘we don't want these people in our community". It shows ableism’s still with us, and in fact many people don’t even recognize that word because the issue's rarely addressed.
People with disabilities are still devalued. There really needs to be attitudinal change and an awareness campaign, and inclusive education's one of the most important steps in this.