Featured Voices: Norman Kunc
When Norman Kunc was born in August 1957 in Canada, doctors advised his parents to place him in an institution because they couldn’t predict the severity of the injury to his brain. Fortunately, his parents ignored the doctors and brought their baby home. Norman was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Initially, he attended segregated schools for students with disabilities, where he received physical therapy three times per week. He worked extremely hard in therapy, out of fear that having a disability would prevent him from living a “meaningful, happy, fulfilled life.” For him, part of achieving this goal meant attending “regular school.“ At the age of 13, through self-advocacy, he was fully included in general education. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Humanities from York University and a master’s degree in family therapy from the University of Guelph. His first book, Ready, Willing, and Disabled, was inspired by his school experiences.
Over the years, Norman’s perception of his disability changed. From childhood through young adulthood, he viewed disability through the medical model: as a personal problem to overcome. In college, he started to see disability through a social model, as a natural part of life. In 2013, Norman spoke at Kingswood Oxford School about owning his cerebral palsy as part of his identity.
Norman is a fierce advocate of inclusive education. He has authored numerous scholarly articles and presented more than 100 keynote speeches worldwide, including at TASH in 2011. At a 2008 ARC conference, Norman articulated the necessity of inclusion this way: “We segregate kids because it is administratively easy. Out of sight, out of mind. Once we get them out of our sight, we are doing what is easiest and we are claiming what we are doing is best. There is a simple rule when it comes to segregation . . . no matter how good the swimming instructor is, you cannot teach someone to swim in the parking lot of the swimming pool. We are trying to give them the skills of living outside the construct of life. The things I learned about living in the community were taught through simple interactions.”
There are numerous videos of Norman’s presentations online. One in particular, Inclusive Education: From Political Correctness Towards Social Justice, explores the importance of educational inclusion.
Norman is married to Emma Van der Klift, who holds a master’s in conflict analysis and management, and was recently diagnosed with autism. Together, they started Broadreach Training and Resources; they travel extensively throughout North America to provide in-service and training in the areas of inclusive education, employment equality, conflict resolution, and other disability rights issues. Emma shares Norman’s passion for inclusion, and they often use humor to cope with difficult situations.
Last year, the two collaborated on a book, Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic: Collected Essays on Disability, Identity and Inclusion, which explores the complexities of inclusion in school and in the community. They also developed Conversations That Matter, a platform with more than 120 videos of conversations with the leading voices in the field of community living and disability rights.
Subscribe to Norman’s YouTube channel to stay up to date with his work.