Understanding the challenges of inclusive schooling with Disney and Pixar


The differences between an inclusive society and an integrative society are still difficult to understand today. The distinction may appear subtle and seen as a simple matter of lexicon. However, at the heart of this notion of inclusion are new issues related to respect for others and universal accessibility.

The evolution of an integrative logic towards an inclusive logic goes beyond the simple lexical alternative. It consists of a radical change to be made in order to adapt society to the needs of people with disabilities. The analysis of the universes created in En Avant (Pixar) and Zootopie (Disney) not only explains the ins and outs of this paradigm shift, but also provides reflective elements in response to current societal and educational challenges.

From one logic to another

Integration corresponds to the right of people with disabilities to live like everyone else. It can be defined in opposition to segregation (exclusion, exclusion of certain groups of individuals). It appeared at the end of the 60s and materialized in the 1975 Law of orientation in favor of disabled people.

The integrative model is a first evolution since it is based on the acceptance of the presence of any individual. However, it comes up against everyone’s singularity. This brake is particularly visible in the Pixar released last March, En Avant .

In this animated film, a universe created from scratch features fantastic creatures (elves, fairies, centaurs, cyclops and other sirens) in a modern society where magic has been replaced by technology. All of the dwellings, shops and transport have been built for a standard elf size.

Although the presence of different bodies seems accepted and tolerated by all, no arrangement allowing an adaptation to the size of the different citizens appears on the screen. Cars and two-wheelers are neither suitable for large builders (especially for the police centaur whose entry and exit from his official vehicle are ridiculed), nor for small individuals (for example, fairies bikers who must organize themselves in order to take charge of their motorcycle).

The inhabitants who differ morphologically from the elves are integrated into society, without being included as full individuals. This is where the concept of inclusion takes on its full meaning.

The centaur policeman unable to get out of his company car (En Avant, Pixar). Disney / pixar

Since the 1990s, the term “inclusion” has replaced , at least within the European Union, that of “integration”. More than a change of word, this development marks a real turning point in the consideration of the diversity of individuals.

Within the framework of an inclusive logic, it is no longer a question of thinking of the person with a disability as having to integrate into social life, but of rethinking society so that it can be adapted to the needs of the individual. The difference is no longer erased, it is recognized and taken into account. Inclusion is seen as the evolution of the old integrative model.

However, it is in an inverse time that Disney illustrates these two companies. Indeed, Zootopia , released in 2016, already offered a civilization anchored in an inclusive dynamic. As a reminder, the animated film features a universe in which animals live and behave like humans in our present time.

Unlike En Avant , Zootopie includes many examples of arrangements adapted to the various morphologies of the animals inhabiting the city. For example, public transport has miniature doors for small animals and shops offer several formats of dishes adapted to everyone’s appetite.

Other adaptations related to physiological diversity are illustrated such as a river path leading to the station for aquatic animals. The places were built in a process of universal accessibility where respect for others is organized around him and not without him.

The current French educational model, rather Zootopia or  En Avant  ?

Any cultural product can be both a mirror of a societal reality, but also a source of representations that perpetuates stereotypical images . How close are French cities to the metropolis of Zootopia  ? What has been preserved of the integrative dynamics of the suburbs of En Avant  ?

The three types of train doors in the city of Zootopia. Disney

In Western societies, the results of the integrative model have proved insufficient in terms of accessibility, education and employment. The desire for normalization of all individuals, without taking into account their uniqueness, and in particular their accessibility needs, is ineffective.

Integration has helped to make everyone’s particularities invisible, while it would have been preferable to provide compensation aimed at making the environment accessible to people with disabilities. The example of En Avant is edifying; all creatures are accepted beyond their size diversity. But nothing is arranged to take into account their morphology and allow them to move with as much ease as the elves.

It is easy to understand the obstacles to school integration. Opening ordinary schools to all without proposing compensatory arrangements involves the risk of excluding and stigmatizing pupils whose disabled situation does not meet the educational standards established by the establishments. It is not only access to schooling that must be facilitated for all children, but also equity for academic success.

The inclusive logic, in the educational environment, suggests that each student has his place in school and that it is the role of the institution and of these actors to find adaptations to the needs of the child in order to that he can learn and develop on the same level as his comrades. This principle has been implemented in France since the law of February 11, 2005 , then specifically confirmed in the school field by the law of July 8, 2013 for the overhaul of the school.

However, inclusion cannot be decreed. Adaptations do not consist of tinkering with what already exists. They are reflected at the start of any project (like the constructions of Zootopia which were designed to be adapted to all animals). Financial, material, human and administrative obstacles stand in the way of current inclusion goals .

Fifteen years after the 2005 law, significant progress can be reported, particularly in the creation of dedicated professions and equipped spaces. The environmental dimension of disability is taken more into account. However, limits in practices and representations remain. Difficulties in material and time are also a problem .

Are we only sufficiently equipped to achieve the utopia of Zootopia  ? Furthermore, it would be useful to remember that accessibility is not only physical. The psychological and social dimensions of health and disability (not shown in the two animated films mentioned in the article, and therefore not analyzed here) are at the heart of many other inclusive issues.

Author Bio: Lucas Sivilotti is a Post-doctoral researcher, doctor in education and training sciences at the University of Bordeaux