When people think of inclusive education, they often have very different ideas. The current model for inclusion requires that the student with a disability “prove” that they are able to
keep up with their peers academically, socially, and behaviorally. However, I believe that in the ideal, integrated classroom, no one would have to earn the right to belong. Every student would be able to choose the environment that is right for them. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), guarantees students with disabilities a “free and appropriate public
education.” Theoretically, this means that the IDEA provides access to the general curriculum (or an adapted version of the curriculum) and the right to choose the environment that will benefit them the most. Both of these points are written into law, but in my opinion, they have not been realized.
As a student, I am on a mainstreamed track in a regular education classroom, but I do not enjoy it. There are social barriers that have kept me from achieving what I would consider true inclusion. So, how does this prove the importance of inclusion? The idea of inclusion is quite simple: academic inclusion holds the idea that everyone is capable of learning, even though some students may learn in a unique way; social inclusion focuses on the idea that everyone wants and needs friends. We need to make sure that everyone with a disability feels welcomed and
appreciated in their school environment! A disability script can be a great tool to promote inclusion. My disability script would sound something like this: “My name is Grace. I use a wheelchair because I have cerebral palsy. I also have autism, which can make it hard for me to interact with others. I may seem socially inept, but I still want to make friends. I am proud of my identity as a person with a disability, but I am first and foremost a person, someone who is ready to learn alongside you.”
I believe that if I had articulated my differences to my peers earlier in the school year, my classmates would have helped me because they are good people. I have found that while some people can be mean, true hatred is rare and most bullies laugh and tease not because they are cruel, but because they are misinformed. Our society has a tendency to see people with
disabilities as deficient when in reality we are people with strengths and weakness just like anyone without a disability. We are humans and inclusion would be a big step forward in
demonstrating our humanity!
The second step to inclusion is an accessible curriculum. The state of Maryland has developed adapted curricula for three common disabilities: intellectual disabilities, autism, and learning disabilities. They mainstream most of their students with disabilities into integrated classrooms. Keep in mind that not everyone will want to be in an integrated classroom; some
people with disabilities perform better academically with one-on-one instruction or in a self-contained classroom. The important thing is that everyone is learning about the same things. A
general education teacher can team up with a special education teacher to adapt the curriculum in a way that makes the information accessible to everyone, and guess what? All students benefit
from a variety of learning styles. The schools in Maryland with inclusive education programs in place have higher graduation rates and higher scores on state standardized tests, and this applies to both those with disabilities and those without.
Inclusive education benefits everyone! Some students may need an adapted curriculum, some students may need a modified learning environment, some may need both and some may need neither. I have often said that inclusive education is a dream of mine, but it does not have to remain a dream. We can make inclusive education a reality if we are willing to listen to each other and respect each other’s needs!
By, Grace Trumpower