04 SES 05 B, Labelling
In January 2008 with the introduction of the Decree-L aw n.º3/2008, Portugal became the first country implementing the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, ICF (WHO, 2001) as a framework to be obligatorily used in special education system. This policy was responsible for the introduction of substantial changes among which the ICF implementation to support the assessment and eligibility processes represented the major challenge for educational professionals.
The ICF framework emerges in the legislation as an organizing information system supporting descriptions that are not only restricted to the documentation of the negative aspects of disability, but also the mapping of the positive attributes of functioning related to key environmental factors (Silveira-Maia & Lopes-dos-Santos, 2010). Based on this assumption, professionals are asked to guide the assessment process using the ICF conceptual framework and taxonomy, by selecting ICF categories related to students’ functioning that should be assessed. From this process, professionals must report the assessment information producing a student’ functioning profile that should reflect ICF multidimensional properties, describing the interaction of different components of human functioning – body functions and structures, activities and participation and environmental factors. The produced functioning profile would basis the eligibility decision-making, which current criteria is also framed into the ICF taxonomy. The target group for special education services is defined as: “students with significant limitations in terms of activity and participation in one or more areas in life due to permanent functional and structural issues, which result in continued difficulty in terms of communication, learning, mobility, autonomy, interpersonal relationships and social involvement” (European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2009).
These changes revealed a great effort to adopt a common language to base the eligibility decision-making and to replace traditional dichotomy approaches – disabled and not disabled – by using a continuum of functioning descriptions. This is seen as a step forward to ensure more equitable criteria in deciding the resources’ allocation within special education services(Simeonsson, 2009).
Due to the changes introduced, the Portuguese Ministry of Education commissioned a two-year research project (2009-2010) with the overall aim to evaluate the national implementation of the Decree-Law n.º3/2008, namely, the ICF use (Sanches-Ferreira et al., 2010; 2012). For that, a multimethod research was conducted using: (1) case studies – a documental analysis of students’ assessment and eligibility processes; (2) focus groups – to assess the perceptions and experiences of parents, teachers and other educational professionals regarding the decree law n.º3/2008 implementation; (3) and a questionnaire to examine how and from what depends the successfully implementation of innovations comprised in the Decree-Law.
This paper is part of that national research project and aims to explore how the ICF is being implemented in order to inform the policy system about needed improvements in its use. This can be broken into the following research questions:
- How has the ICF been supporting the eligibility process?
- How the biopsychosocial model operationalized by the ICF has been contributing for understanding students’ needs?
- What constrains have been identified in the ICF use?
European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education. Identification of special educational needs – Portugal. 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.european-agency.org/country-information/portugal/national-overview/identification-of-special-educational-needs Decreto-Lei n.º 3/2008 (Decree-Law 3/2008). Ministério da Educação. Diário da República – Série n.º 4 – 7 de Janeiro de 2008, pp. 154–164. Sanches-Ferreira, M., Simeonsson, R., Silveira-Maia, M., Alves, S., Tavares, A., & Pinheiro, S. (2012). Portugal’s special education law: implementing the ICF in policy and practice. Disability & Rehabilitation. Advance online publication (August, 13). doi:10.3109/09638288.2012.708816 Sanches-Ferreira, M., Simeonsson, R., Maia, M., Pinheiro, S., Tavares, A., & Alves, S. (2010). Projecto da Avaliação Externa da Implementação do Decreto-Lei n.º 3/2008: Relatório Final. Lisboa: Direcção-Geral de Inovação e de Desenvolvimento Curricular. Available in: http://www.dgidc.min-edu.pt/educacaoespecial/data/ensinoespecial/estudo_simeonsson.pdf Silveira-Maia, M. & Lopes-dos-Santos, P. (2010). Práticas em Educação Especial à Luz do Modelo Biopsicossocial: O Uso da CIF-CJ como Referencial na Elaboração dos Programas Educativos Individuais. Actas do VII Simpósio Nacional de Investigação em Psicologia, Minho. Simeonsson, R. J. (2009). ICF-CY: a universal tool for documentation of disability. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 6(2), 70-72. World Health Organization. (2001). International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.
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