Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

5 Things Children Totally Understand About Disability That Most Adults Do Not

By Emily Beitiks

If my kids (age 4 and nearly 2) and I woke up tomorrow morning and found a dragon in our living room, my son’s top concern would be “What should we name it?” and my daughter would probably try to hug it. I haven’t yet taught them that if you see a dragon, proceed with caution, as we believe them to be fictional and quite likely dangerous.

Every single thing we know today as grown-ups, we had to learn at some point in our development.

But there are some things my kids intuitively grasp without my help. To my surprise, nearly everyone I meet below the age of 4 just rolls with it when it comes to disability. Ableism hasn’t taken hold yet. Here are five things I’ve seen young children totally understand about disability that unfortunately, most adults struggle with (And feel free to share more examples in the comment section below!):

1) There’s nothing shameful about having your butt wiped.

We recently had one of my son’s friends over to our house, and my son was trying his hardest to impress her. He showed her his extensive dinosaur collection and even let her hold all the items in his treasure chest, the highest honor. Without the slightest ounce of modesty, he interrupted their play date to loudly announce, “I have to poop!” He then ran to the toilet and carried on a conversation with her while taking care of it. Shortly after, she too needed to poop and didn’t think twice about asking me to come in when she was done, already waiting with her butt in the air.

People with disabilities and their personal care assistants know this lesson. Dependence in the bathroom becomes mundane, and taboos surrounding bodily functions go out the door. When nondisabled people think about disability, needing to rely on someone else’s help for transferring to a toilet or wiping often instills fear and disgust: if I had to live like that, I’d kill myself, they say, forgetting that it was once commonplace for all of us.

2) It’s okay to ask for help when you need it, and at other times, to turn down help.

My daughter getting help.

My kids can’t tie their shoes, read a book, (and we’ve already covered the whole butt wiping thing), so they call on others for help constantly. However, when they don’t need help, they really let me know it. Typically, it involves a shout of “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!!!,” deeply insulted that I would try to assist them with something that they had now mastered.

People with disabilities might ask for help at times, and at other moments prefer to do something without help, knowing that help can be counterproductive (e.g. you should never push a wheelchair rider’s chair or open a door for someone unless you have been asked to). Children get that it’s okay to be complicated when it comes to what your needs are.

3) We should search for commonalities before differences.

Here’s a recent conversation I had with my son (pictured right), looking at a photo of the Geico gecko (pictured left):

Carver: Hey, he looks like me!

Me: I don’t see that. Like at all.

Carver: Really? Huh.

I didn’t press further. Apparently, the lines between his body and the gecko’s weren’t as different in his mind as they were in mine.

When you think about it, several children’s movies (ET, Lilo and Stitch, The Iron Giant) show kids befriending and harboring aliens that everyone else wants to cage up or eliminate…while fictional, the impulse of children to embrace difference or even celebrate it as something cool, rather than stigmatizing, is grounded in reality. As my son’s mysterious connection to the Geico gecko, kids see commonality before difference, and my guess is it’s because they simply haven’t lived long enough to learn a cemented version of what “normal” is.

4) Devices are really useful and cool!

An assistive device!

Too often adults think of anyone who uses a wheelchair as “wheelchair bound,” suggesting the device is a tool of oppression rather than one of mobility. Children do not, however, share this perspective. My son recently said to me, “I wish I had a wheelchair, don’t you mom?” (in part because he knows he’s not allowed to play on the elevator in our house, that’s only for when a wheelchair rider visits).

And why would kids think negatively about assistive technology devices? They too rely heavily upon them, from their strollers to the stools in front of the sink to their own potty chairs and “special” scissors. Next time you see a parent toting a baby on their back, ask them how they are coping with having a “bjorn-bound” member of their family!

5) The built environment determines what you can and can’t do.

I bet this helped sell a lot of toys…

Ask any kid who grew up in the 80s anywhere near the Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco, and they’ll likely remember the joy of walking through the small door at the Imaginarium toy store. In a world built for adults, there was something magical about encountering that door, knowing that it was meant for you. I’ve seen my son react similarly when we’ve visited children’s museums that have lowered sinks and toilets at his height. And when kids encounter the converse, they’re similarly frustrated. Why is that cool toy (that I’ve taken away from my son because he hit his sister with it) out of reach on the top shelf of the bookshelf?! Kids are constantly learning what people with disabilities experience every day: what you can or can’t do and even your sense of belonging vary with the surrounding environment.

I wish I could say that what I’m taking away from these observations is optimism that the new generation of children is growing up with a keen understanding of disability. Alas, my hunch is that instead, it reminds us that we are gradually learning to make different assumptions about disability (negative and stigmatizing) that take over.

As children grow up, they often become fixated on difference, and don’t hesitate to point it out, whether it’s “Your teeth are yellow!”, “That boy is wearing a dress!”, or “You don’t have an arm!” When they do this in front of their parents, it is often quickly shut down with “Don’t stare!” or “That’s rude!” teaching them that the difference is shameful. And when our door for acceptance of difference slams shut, children can be especially cruel to other children, resulting in social exclusion and bullying.

Ableism is a learned process. However, that does give us hope that we can teach different lessons that allow us to reconnect with the lessons we grasped more easily in our youth. I’m working on that with my kids every day (so that warning about dragons being fictional and potentially dangerous might have to be on the back burner).

Source: 5 Things Adults Unlearn about Disability || Disability Remix Blog

Photo Credit: mel issa/Flickr

Three Tips to Make Classrooms Mobility Device Friendly

A class reads from books. A disabled student is in a wheelchair.

Achieving greatness requires overcoming challenges. The more challenges faced, the increased greatness. Perhaps that explains why establishing an inclusive environment remains so challenging. Inclusion’s many benefits certainly make inclusion great and hence worth the problem solving efforts.

Obstacles to inclusion vary based off different special needs, although certain obstacles transcend specific disabilities. Such proves the case with mobility devices. Students who use canes, walkers or wheelchairs encounter similar issues. No matter the disability.

In an effort to identify these issues and compile solutions Think Inclusive reached out to adults with disabilities via a survey “Blending Mobility Devices into the Classroom.” Survey questions as you can read here asked respondents to remember back to their school days. Insights collected led to the following tips for making classrooms mobility device friendly.

Tip #1: Turn the Tables on Desks

Nearly half the survey respondents mentioned desks as an issue. Each one used a wheelchair in school. Answering “When you think about your time in the classroom setting, what comes to mind?” Erin M. Diericx said “I remember awkwardly parking my electric wheelchair among the desks.”

Another respondent Adriana Mallozzi raised the issue when answering the question “What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome using that mobility device in a classroom setting?” She said “Starting in middle school, there were desks attached to chairs instead of tables.”

Furnishing classrooms with tables opposed to desks stood a preference amongst survey takers. Obviously you as a teacher can only work with the furniture placed inside the classroom. Yet you can give a voice to the matter. Persistently vocalize to the higher ups why they should put tables in classrooms. Persistence possesses a better chance to stimulate change than shrugging your shoulders and saying “I can only work with what they give me.”

Tip #2: Create Wide Aisles

While you can’t control what furnishes your classroom, you can typically control how to arrange the furniture. Within her responses Thelma Padgett emphasized the need for wide aisles. Padgett’s perspective differed from other respondents given the fact her experiences comes teaching with a disability.

Throughout her different answers Padgett explained how using a walker impacts her ability to teach. Replying to the biggest obstacle question she wrote “Space. If desks were moved even slightly, it made walking between them difficult and sometimes impossible.”

From the student perspective respondent Casey Miller echoed the aforementioned. Miller who uses a manual wheelchair credited his teachers for helping to neutralize mobility issues. “Mobility was my biggest problem. They’d (My teachers) moved some desks around if everyone was going to one specific place in the classroom.”

Admittedly re-arranging furniture will not always exist as an option. Miller noted that. “Sometimes in a small classroom with 30+ kids and just as many desks there isn’t much they could do.” Therefore he found himself limited to his “assigned area,” distinguishing semantics caused by Miller’s sense of humor.  “I had to keep saying ‘assigned area’ (in my survey answers) because that’s what they (my teachers) ended up having to call it. Every time they told me to go back to my assigned seat I’d tell them that I never left it.”

Tip #3: Treat Students Equally

Tip three differs from the first two in you hold total control over the situation. Treat students with mobility devices like any other student. Mallozzi shared appreciation for her teachers doing this for her when answering “What was something your teacher did to make the classroom setting a better atmosphere for you?” She plainly replied “Treated me like everyone else.”

Mallozzi kept a similar tone when offering her advice to teachers “It’s ok to acknowledge it (disability) for obvious reasons, but not focus on it.” Respondent Devin Axtman also hit on said point. “Don’t make it (the disability) a huge deal.”

Axtman proceeded to cite an example where his disability received unnecessary attention. “Sometimes a teacher would say, ‘Everyone please stand for the pledge, except for Devin.’ Everyone knew I couldn’t stand. It wasn’t something that needed to be pointed out.”

Bottom line treat a student who uses mobility devices like any other student, arrange classroom furniture to create wide aisles, and insist on tables to furnish your classroom. These three steps will build a mobility device friendly classroom and help everyone experience the greatness inclusion offers.

Photo Credit: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

Donald Trump Is Bad for Students with Disabilities and America

donald trump in greenville, south carolina

Where does Trump stand on educating students with disabilities or disabled people in general?

If Trump’s mocking of a reporter with a disability in November of 2015 or the title of his book (Crippled America) is any indication, one can only infer the lack of respect he has for disabled individuals.

If that is not bad enough, he consistently and unrelentingly disrespects people from a whole host of backgrounds. Here is a meticulously compiled list of insults that he has made (and this is just from Twitter).

Maybe Trump is not that bad… Yes. He is.

Perhaps you are thinking along the same lines as Ben Carson…that Trump’s demagoguery is just “all political stuff” or he will suddenly stop all this hateful rhetoric when he becomes the Republican nominee. Don’t count on it. Trump has tapped into the bitterness of some of the most heinous and repulsive segments in our society and it is all playing out for us to see.

Carson decided recently to endorse the Donald after a series of conversations with each of the GOP contenders. Initially, Carson was hesitant to support Trump, given the noxious tone of his campaign, which included a few ad hominem attacks on the retired neurosurgeon.

But it appears Carson’s reservations melted away after learning that Trump doesn’t really believe all those terrible things he says – about Mexicans, about Muslims, about disabled people, about women. It’s all part of the show, you see. If Trump were indeed as dumb and venomous as he lets on, well that wouldn’t be presidential material. Luckily, though, it’s just par for the course, a little red meat for the racists and jingoists in the base. – SALON (March 14th, 2016)

This (in my opinion) is what makes Donald Trump so dangerous. Now is not the time (nor is there ever) to throw decency out the window.

What does this have to do with education or students with disabilities?

For those of us who care about education and the ramifications of Trump becoming president on special education and other disability rights legislation there is cause for concern.  Though Trump has not explicitly stated that he would cut the Department of Education (DOE), it stands to reason that he would make is sufficiently harder for the Department to conduct any oversight. The DOE houses the Office of Special Education Programs (one of the chief organizations that has control on how states implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Trump has also been a vocal advocate of getting rid of Common Core and giving control back to the local school boards but does not clarify what he exactly means since many (if not all) decisions about curriculum are already based at the state and local level. The truth is that the impact of a Trump administration is largely unknown and simply conjecture. This does not mean that Americans should just roll the dice and see how things shake out. This is especially true for those of us who advocate for full and authentic inclusion and believe that deep down we are fighting for civil rights.

We do know where some of the other candidates stand on the issues regarding disability.

Notably, the Clinton and Sanders campaign were one of the first ones to fill out the PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaire which was designed for people with disabilities and their loved ones  to know where candidates stand on the issues.

The questionnaire asked all of the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle to comment on 16 disability questions. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders responded by addressing all of the questions, and have significantly different views on the issues. Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich filled out parts of the questionnaire, and also have significantly different views. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, the campaigns of Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Republican front-runner Donald Trump have not yet filled out the questionnaire.” – The Respect Ability Report (February 29th, 2016)

You can read the results released by RespectAbility here.

Bottom Line: Donald Trump is bad for the disabled and for America

It is not typical for our website to be for or against a particular political candidate but this is a singularly unique time in our history. We would hate to be silent on this issue when it is this important. We will leave you with some thoughts from Senator Elizabeth Warren.

There’s a history of demagogues calling those they disagree with “terrorists” and using that as justification for…

Posted by Elizabeth Warren on Monday, March 14, 2016


Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr

What Is so Wrong with Inspiration Porn?

What is So Wrong with Inspiration Porn?
By Andrew Pulrang

This post was originally published at

I am still working on a sort of master post on Inspiration Porn, but I want to take another detour to talk about a subset of this loosely defined phenomenon. I’ll call it High School Gestures, referring to three practices that have become popular in American high schools and a familiar trope in “feel good” media:

1. High school students electing a disabled student to be Prom King or Queen.

2. Organizing and hosting “special” prom events, specifically for disabled students.

3. Allowing a disabled student to “run a play” with a sports team.

Three Key Factors Make These Practices a Type of Inspiration Porn:

1. They are all intended to be “good deeds” for people assumed to be stigmatized and unable to make satisfying social lives for themselves.

2. Media coverage of these events almost always focuses on the kindness of the organizers, relatively little on the disabled individuals these events are supposed to benefit, and not at all on the stigmas and barriers disabled students face every day in their effort to participate in school social life.

3. The events are often further interpreted as encouraging signs that “the kids today” may not be going to Hell after all … the premise being that on every other day it seems like they are, an unfair and insulting idea in itself.

Labeling these kinds of events Inspiration Porn obviously indicates that I have problems with them, and I do. They are usually well meaning, but contrived and, in a sense, fake. I worry that later in life, some of these disabled youth will look back on these “feel good” events and and cringe at how patronizing they were, and wonder how they allowed themselves to be treated as objects of pity and charity. No matter what the specifics, these events are almost always reported in the same sentimental way, so that even when a specific event is really sincere, it still comes off as weepy Inspiration Porn. The worst thing, in a way, is that these are usually “one off” gestures that benefit one especially loved disabled person, while most disabled kids are unaffected.

Let’s be clear. An unstated premise of these gestures is that “normal” high school social rituals are inherently exclusive and off-limits to most disabled students. That is the problem, and these flashy gestures don’t do much to change the situation. It’s like giving a box of extra-tasty chocolates, just once, to starving person, instead of what they need, which is a reliable diet of nutritious food.

In addition, a lot of disabled people themselves find these kinds of practices truly vile and offensive, in a very personal way. And I think it’s important to emphasize that this feeling is real, not intellectualized or theoretical, or deployed merely for rhetorical purposes. And no, it doesnt matter that the intentions are good. We feel it like a gut punch.

On the other hand, I have started thinking that the acts themselves aren’t always so terrible; it’s the way they are reported that makes us gag. In a couple of cases about prom court elections, it seemed like the students sincerely voted for people they genuinely liked, almost without reference to their disability. It’s just that the media covered it like it was a charitable act. Still, one or two isolated examples just don’t go far enough when the majority of disabled students are entirely left out of extracurricular activities and social life.

Focus on Lasting Change Instead of Inspiration Porn

Instead, I would prefer schools to discourage these types of grand, benevolent gestures. Here are some ideas on how schools can take up the long-term and less immediately gratifying job of removing barriers to a full social life for all disabled students.

1. Schools should support a wider variety of extracurricular activities, besides the prom and the the most popular sports programs. “Schools should support” means school district taxpayers should demand and agree to pay for more diverse, robust social options that appeal to all kinds of students, including those with disabilities.

2. Schools should create clubs and organizations that are associated with the top sports programs, but serve peripheral support functions and can accommodate non-athletic participants. It’s unrealistic to think that chess club, theater companies, and community service groups are ever going to be as popular as football and basketball, so let’s create and recognize some real support roles that disabled students … and other non-athletic students … can play.

3. Make it absolutely clear that all students … including those who don’t have dates and just want to go and have fun … are welcomed to attend all of the proms, formals, and other social events. The long term goal here might be to permanently de-emphasize the “coupling up” aspect. Also, it would help to downplay the most expensive aspects, like tuxes, gowns, and limos. Don’t ban them, but don’t glorify them.

4. Instead of charitably giving awards and honors to disabled people who would probably not qualify under ordinary circumstances, create a wider variety of awards and honors that are honest and real, and which disabled students (and others) can more frequently earn without anyone having to make a “special” effort.

One argument against these suggestions might be that they shortchange students on learning valuable lessons about kindness and generosity. For one thing, that’s like saying that we need people to be in poverty so that everyone else can learn to be generous. I would also counter that there are much more important lessons to learn about respecting and including all kinds of people and normalizing those values, rather than treating ordinary decency as some kind special gift that privileged people occasionally bestow on those deemed “less fortunate.”

In short, a little less “Make-A-Wish” and a lot more commitment to deep integration and equality. That’s what we should be shooting for. It’s harder to accomplish, but the long term benefits are far greater than the fleeting results of one or two big, short-term gestures per year. And although wholesale culture change sounds like a near-impossible task, these specific steps in that direction are eminently achievable.

We have to insist on it, not just for our disabled students, but for all of them.

 Photo Credit: Joshua Zader/Flickr
AndrewPulrangAndrew Pulrang writes for the Disability Thinking Blog as well as hosts a podcast about the depictions of people with disabilities on television called Disability.TV. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


Creating Safe Learning Environments for All Students

How to Create Safe and Positive Learning Environments for All Students

Creating Safe Learning Environments

By utilizing specific strategies, teachers can support students in self-monitoring both learning and behavior.  This is the goal of education—to create citizens who are self-regulated learners.  When students receive special education services, there is additional responsibility to ensure that they are systematically guided to increased levels of independence throughout their school years. Students with emotional disabilities have the same educational goal and rights, but it is an even greater challenge to meet them, since these students are suspended at disproportional rates compared to their peers.   When students with emotional disabilities are suspended and expelled, the majority of the manifested behaviors are due to high anxiety and lack of ability to cope with it; difficulty managing feelings of frustration, panic, and/or anger; and inappropriate social skills to rectify conflict.   I have found success with a program of classroom and school community solutions; these strategies proactively support student behavior and decrease suspensions and the need for alternative consequences.

Suspensions Do Little to Improve School Safety

Rather than using one-size-fits-all suspensions as a consequence for every type of student behavior or Zero Tolerance policies that do little to improve school safety, we can view behavior as a means of communication and use proactive approaches to model and teach appropriate and responsible behavior.  The ideals and principles of Restorative Justice include building relationships, creating inclusive environments where all students feel a sense of belonging, and using effective social skills strategies to manage conflict.  Restorative Justice advocates for these proactive approaches whenever possible and responsive approaches when harm has happened.  The goal is to prevent misunderstandings and conflict, therefore reducing the need for suspensions.

Proactive Approaches Are Better for Teaching Responsibility


  • Three Principles
    • Relationships, Inclusiveness , Accountability
  • Ideology:
    • A move from the traditional thought that the situation should be turned over to authority to administer justice versus involvement of the community (other students)
    • Opposes the stark dichotomy that someone was right or wrong, innocent or guilty; in favor of determining harm done among the group members and then repairing harm
    • Digresses from purely punitive consequences or punishment determined by outside partner versus use of agreements, accountability and consequences from the inside members, focusing on how to make things better
  • Tenants
    • Let’s be proactive and create inclusive and trusting communities (an opportunity for students and teachers to talk about misunderstandings and conflict and commit to ways to make it better while accepting unique differences)
    • Use affective statements (“I statements”) to build community and relationships
    • Create dialogue circles to address conflicts or misunderstandings; students and teachers learn about each other as they talk about issues and concerns on a consistent basis, in a consistent way
    • Use Restorative Justice questions: What happened? How do you feel about the situation? Do we want to sit and talk about the situation (restorative conversation)?

To see examples on the power of Restorative Justice, view The Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth website and visit the National website for Restorative Justice.

Strategies That Are Researched Based Work

I also highly recommend Discipline in the Secondary Classroom: A Positive Approach to Behavior Management by Randall S. Sprick.  Based on research from visiting classrooms across the country and collecting strategies that work, Sprink has created a sequential, proactive behavior approach, the S.T.O.I.C. model, for helping teachers achieve behavior success in our classrooms.  It is recommended that teachers follow this classroom program starting the beginning of the year. Start by (S) structuring and organizing your classroom, then (T) teach behavioral expectations, (O) observe and monitor students, (I) interact positively, and (C) correct misbehavior fluently.  The author provides visual supports, guided note check-ins, looks like/sounds like diagrams, and exemplars to demonstrate the various behavior management techniques of this model.  Each section of the STOIC behavior management model (from arranging the classroom space to effectively teaching behavioral expectations) has specific steps for implementation success and each section concludes with a step by step  self-assessment to ensure each piece of the model’s criteria has been followed.  This step by step checklist assists teachers in self-monitoring how well they used the essential steps and how the students responded to essential strategies for creating positive classroom and school-wide management plans.  The book also has appendices that address cultural competency and how to work effectively with students and families from diverse backgrounds. The accompanying CD provides behavior checklists, templates, and video tutorials on the various components of effective behavior management.

If you are seeking practical ways to modify behavior charts, add visual supports to schedules, and create behavior intervention plans to support students with moderate to severe disabilities, please email me for suggestions on specific resources.  Together, we can create safe and positive learning environments for all students.

Photo Credit: Lighttruth/Flickr

Savanna Flakes, EdS has taught a variety of subjects, grades, and learners in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, and Virginia.  She has received numerous honors and awards for her work in education. Savanna is currently an Inclusion Specialist, coaching administrators and teachers on effective inclusive and instructional practices.  Savanna has served as a Professor in the American University School of Education and Health and she presents nationally on topics such as Differentiation, Co-teaching, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusion. As an Education Consultant, she works with school communities to build teacher leaders and utilize effective instructional practices for students with exceptionalities.

The Real Problem With Disability Is How We Think About It

The Real Problem With Disability Is How We Think About It

If you have not seen the Tedx talk by Torrie Dunlap of Kids Included Together, then you are missing out on one of the most cohesive explanations of the different models of how we view disability. After watching this 17 minute video you won’t be able to view disability the same way.

Here is the full text transcript of Torrie’s talk.

Isn’t it a Pity? The Real Problem with Special Needs
Torrie Dunlap
CEO, Kids Included Together

In the early 90s I was a student on this very campus, and actually, on this very stage. I was a drama major who had a dream to change the world through arts education. The world, however, had something different in mind. In one of my first professional theater jobs I was directing a production of the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but there are a lot of kids in that show. We held auditions and there was a very lovely middle schooler, with a really pretty voice. She happened to use a wheelchair. I remember casting her in the show and feeling so good about myself for casting someone with special needs in the show. How great for her, and how amazing for the audiences who would see someone using a wheelchair in a production. I spent a lot of time feeling good about myself for this. We had some logistics to figure out, so the production team and I put our heads together and we created a set design with the standard bleacher seating and we made a special cut out for this young girl so she would slide right in with her chair and sit next to the other kids. We hadn’t told her about this and on the day we moved into the theater I could not have been more excited. The theater was old and not very accessible, and so three dads had to hoist the chair with her in it up onto the stage. I proudly showed her the cut out where she would sit in her wheelchair. I will never forget what happened next. She looked up at me and said, “How come I don’t get to sit on the bleachers like the other kids?” And wow. I could not believe how badly I had missed the boat. I was so caught up in the visual and the good feelings I had about doing this that I had not even considered that how she participated was her choice- and I had not even asked her. Without intending to, I had marginalized her. I had turned her from a 7th grader who likes singing and wants to be in a play with her friends into some kind of poster child for disability representation in the arts. I never forgot this experience, and how much I learned that day.

In fact, it informed the rest of my career. After many years of teaching kids with all kinds of differences and abilities I took a leap of faith and became a part-time program coordinator at Kids Included Together, a small grassroots non-profit in San Diego that was teaching child care and after school programs how to meet the needs of all kids. Nine years later I became the CEO and we have now done this work in 45 states and 10 countries and we teach thousands of people each year.

I have learned in my close to 20 years of immersion in this field that we can overcome our fears and the barriers that separate children with and without disabilities by changing our mindset.

In 2011 the World Health Organization and the World Bank published a report on disability. The report states children with disabilities are among the most marginalized children in the world.

I believe that a reason why as a society we have not embraced children with disabilities as full participants in our schools and communities is the limitation of our own mental models around disability. We have moved from hiding and institutionalizing children to a world where kids with disabilities are “special” and receive special services in special settings with special caregivers, and they- and their families- are disenfranchised from the community at large and have become their own separate community. I believe that “special” has become a euphemism for “separate.” When we create a separate, “special” places for children where their “special needs” can be met, we are teaching them that their place is over there, with people like them and not in the full community. When young, impressionable children are taught that their needs are too great, that they are too different and that they don’t fit our very narrow definition of “normal” this has a life long affect on their ability to contribute positively to society. Our goal as adults, parents, teachers and child care providers, is to help kids grow up to be confident, happy adults who make a positive contribution to the world. But, when it comes to kids with disabilities we have missed the boat.

The disruption that’s needed is in conceptual models of disability. In the field of disability studies they are known as the “medical model” and the “social model.”

The medical model, obviously coming out of the medical community, but with widespread adoption outside of it, views disability as a problem that needs to be cured or fixed. People who have disabilities are perceived as sick and that only experts can determine what treatments are needed. It’s not that cures or medical interventions are necessarily a bad thing, but when we use the medical model as our way of perceiving disability we view children who have them as a problem that need fixing, and we separate them from their peers without disabilities. This is why we often lead with pity- we feel sorry for people who are broken and need fixing and we feel charitable by helping them and this is where we design “special services for special kids.” We feel good that we have done something kind for “those poor children.” We make a lot of assumptions here that children who have disabilities have a poor quality of life, can’t learn and can’t achieve. We assume they need something different than other kids, because they are “special.”

The counterpoint to the Medical Model is the Social Model of Disability.

In this model we view societal barriers as the problem, and not the child. Disability is perceived not as a negative, but as neutral. In this model we view disability as something that exists in the environment and in society, and it is the failure of the environment and not the person. In order to lessen the impact of disability on a person, we need to change the interaction between the person and the environment.

And because this is TEDx and we like big, fancy words I’ll give you one more- this is the model the World Health Organization works from and the one we use in our work at Kids Included Together. It’s called the biopsychosocial model.

This model accepts that medical labels and diagnoses are part of the identity of the person and environmental barriers are also considered when looking at how disability influences a child’s ability to function in the world. It’s a more holistic approach.

You may see your own perspective reflected in one of these models, or you may feel like you have never thought of it before. But, even if we haven’t been confronted with making a conscious choice to adopt a model, we all have one. We create our own mental models to make sense of the world.

A mental model is a deeply engrained set of beliefs based on assumptions, generalizations, media images, our own experience or lack of it. Basically, how we think about stuff. Think of it as your internal personal algorithm. When faced with a decision, before you are even conscious of it, your mental model goes to work. For many of us, our mental model around disability reflects the medical model- something to fear, something to fix, something to feel sorry for, and that we can feel good when we help less fortunate people. But, what happens when we consciously change our internal model and view disability as neutral, and the environment as a factor. What if we see children with disabilities first as children, and not a diagnosis or as “special?”

Here is a very typical community event- it’s a rodeo for “Challenged Buckaroos.” A special rodeo for children with disabilities. The event is designed for children – no special adaptations for disability are needed or offered that I can tell, and the marketing materials say that this is a chance for some “very special kids to meet real cowboys and cowgirls while being cheered on by their fans.” The piece in the newspaper includes a quote from the organizer about how “rodeo fans can give a great day to some great kids.” What do you think? Medical model or social model? What assumptions are we making about children and their disability in an event like this? Why do children who have a disability label need their own special rodeo? What message are we sending to kids when we create a separate rodeo just for them?

What if the rodeo committee held a children’s event and invited all children- regardless of their ability to attend. Picture what a day at the rodeo with all kinds of kids there could look like. They would make sure that children who needed it had extra assistance, but would anything else really have to change? What do we gain by building a community where everyone belongs?

Here is another one- and I know I am going to get some pushback on this one- and it involves someone many of us hold near and dear to our hearts- Santa Claus. I was at the mall one November day and I saw this poster for a special Santa Claus photo session for special kids. I know these events are happening all over the country, and I bet most people feel good about them. It seems like a nice thing to do, right? Making sure that everyone who wants to can visit Santa. It’s called Caring Santa. For me, this raises a lot of questions- and I hope it does for you too- isn’t Santa always caring? Would you want your child sitting on the lap of Uncaring Santa? What are the barriers to access for Santa? These events are targeted to families who have children with sensory sensitivities, but I wonder if there is a way to meet the needs of all kids in a way that actually enhances the experience for everyone.

What do we gain by keeping kids separate? What do we lose out on when we do?

There are a lot of milestones in a child’s life, for kids who celebrate Christmas a visit to Santa is one of them. For most high schoolers the Prom is a rite of passage. Over the past few years I have seen events called “Special Needs Proms” pop up. These are events that invite teens who receive special education services to attend a separate prom together with other teens from other area high schools. All of the dresses, tuxedos, limos are donated to the teens. Teens without disabilities volunteer at the event as “hosts” to the honored guests and receive their community service credit. The parents, family and friends of the kids view the prom from in real time a live video feed.

I know that as adults we worry about, and we care about kids who might get left out of the prom experience, because they are different. High school is a tough place. But, what if we instead looked through a different lens and put our energy toward making sure that every high school prom is welcoming and inclusive to all the students who attend the school? We need to examine what the actual barriers to prom are for teens with disabilities. Is it really the cost? Is it the lack of someone to be a date? Are there physical accessibility barriers? I wonder what underlying message we are sending, both to the teens with disabilities who may hear us say that they aren’t welcome at a school event on their campus with kids they have gone to school with, and also to the volunteer teen “escorts” and what message we are sending to them about pity and helplessness and separation by ability. And, really, would you have wanted your mom watching you at your prom through a video feed?

I want to introduce you to my friend Addie. She’s 8 now, and in 3rd grade, but I want to tell you about her school music performances in 1st and 2nd grade. Addie uses a wheelchair and also does not use her voice to communicate. During the performance Addie sat 20 feet away from her peers, on the other side of a wall with her aide. The way she was made a part of it was by the decorations the class put on her wheelchair. So, there she is in her adorned chair far away from her peers. You can see which model is in play, right? Fast forward to 2nd grade and it’s time for a music performance. Addie has a teacher using a different mental model and this time she is on stage, next to her peers and she has a meaningful role to play in the show. They had used Addie’s recorder to capture her sister Emily’s voice saying “Thank you for coming to our performance” and after the few songs are over Addie hits a button that starts the recording. Huge beaming smile on her face. The teacher looked at the barriers and overcame them- and it wasn’t that difficult.

This is the opportunity we have. And it is important. Disability is going to touch all of our lives at some point, by disease, by accident, by the natural process of aging and living longer. And we probably all have friends or family members who experience some kind of disability. How do we want to be included in our communities? How do we want our children to be regarded? As something fragile, broken and “special” or as people who have a right to belong in our communities? I believe that when we examine our own mental models toward disability, we won’t default to pity and charity but will focus our efforts on making our society accessible to everyone, and everyone will benefit.

Thank you.

8 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom

8 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom

By Amy Williams

Over the past few years, there has been a push to ensure that every student is able to participate equally in the classroom. The past assumptions that special education must be a separate entity from general education is fading. It is giving way to filling the desks with a rich and diverse student landscape.

Researchers have looked extensively at the outcomes of education for students who have disabilities. They examined their placements and concluded that the children’s classroom setting or placement didn’t impact success. It’s actually the quality of instruction that enabled children to reach their achievements.

Inclusion in the Classroom

Shutterstock1Studies suggest inclusion is the most effective solution to create well-rounded individuals and learning environments. This practice ensures all children are developing social skills and sound fundamentals at the same times.

Inclusion goes beyond the simple “mainstreaming” illusion. Attempting to mainstream students with special needs is done with the best intentions, but often this occurs only when there is no instruction. This unintentionally creates a type of segregation that places students with their peers only on a part time basis for “specials” like art or music.

The teacher has a monumental job in front of him or her. Luckily there are a variety of assistive technologies available to supplement lessons so all students are learning and engaged. These devices promote independence for people with disabilities as they adapt and interact in their environment.

8 Types of Assistive Technology to Utilize Today

In the past, assistive technology was expensive, cumbersome, and difficult to locate. These units were bulky and lacked easy mobility which stifled a child’s peer interaction. Today, technology advancements are easing the job of individualizing lessons and locating materials to create a scholarly environment for all students.

Here are 8 forms of assistive technology to use in your classroom today:

Apps for tablets. Combine iPads with communication apps to allow students a variety of ways to convey their ideas with a tap of the screen. The lightweight and portability of iPads make this easy to use.

Encourage positive behavior and parental participation with computer programs. Class Dojo is a great example of what is available for educators. This program allows students to receive real-time feedback on behavior and class participation. It is also a great way to communicate with parents.

Look for co-writer word programs that are similar to autocorrect. This allows children to write and express their ideas on the computer without worrying about spelling. There are also apps for dysgraphia that allow students to snap an image of their paper and type in the answers to avoid falling behind in class.

Use hearing aid compatible headsets to allow children with hearing impairments or aids to hear audio better. These simply fit over a hearing aid and work just like headphones.

Smartpens can streamline the writing process. These writing utensils have the ability to record lectures or spoken words as you write, which allows the author to focus on writing or listening. Later, they trace the words on the paper to hear the recording.

“Slide boards” or custom made supports for keyboards or tablets. These wood or plastic frames steady hands while typing or engaging on a screen without limiting the device.

Velcro tabs or small stuffed animals. Look for small handheld manipulatives that provide stimulation to help calm restless children or increase focus during lectures or quiet times. These are examples of low-tech assistive technology.

Monitoring software for Smartphones and Internet use. This is a good recommendation for parents of children with special needs who are using the Internet on a regular basis. These programs allow parents to view a child’s texts and online activity to make sure they are not being targeted by cyberbullies or predators.

Encouraging All Students

Shutterstock2The philosophy of inclusion promotes a sense of community. Children learn valuable social skills like empathy, problem solving, communication, taking turns, teamwork and more!

Individualized instruction for all learners allows them to master or review concepts at their own pace. Pupils are able to rewind clips, pause videos, or rework problems to develop a greater understanding of the lesson.

Surprisingly, educators have noticed that inclusion has benefitted the entire student population—not just the ones who have an IEP. This process, aided with assistive technology, possesses the power to create meaningful experiences that are superior to one size fits all worksheets and direct lesson plans.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Do you have any assistive technology examples that you would like to add? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
Author_Amy WilliamsAmy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she has learned a lot of things the hard way, and hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.

The 8 Most Atrocious Myths About Inclusive Education

The 8 Most Atrocious Myths About Inclusive Education
This article originally was published at

When it was passed in 1975, what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act became the most sweeping legislation in the history of United States education.  No law, before or since, did more to change the landscape of our schools.

Four decades ago, there was a virtual system of educational apartheid.  Today, 94.92% of students with disabilities, ages 6-21, attend their local neighborhood schools, 80.87% spending part or all of the day in a general education setting.  Most (61.08%) are included in “regular” classrooms for 80-100% of the school day (

Research conclusively demonstrates supported inclusive education is favored by most stakeholders:  students with special needs, students who are developing typically, parents of students with disabilities, parents of students who are not disabled, general education teachers, special educators, other direct service providers, and educational administrators.

Yet, misconceptions remain a threat to understanding the least restrictive environment provision of the law. Myths develop because they sound intuitively correct and support stereotypical thinking.  The facts, however,  are clearly supported by educational research evidence.

Myth 1: “Inclusion jeopardizes the education of the ‘other’ students.”

The Facts: When it’s done correctly, supported inclusive education enriches the quality of education.  Research has consistently documented the benefits for all students.  Denying diversity diminishes the lives of students with and without disabilities.

Myth 2: “Full inclusion (placing all students with disabilities in general education regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities) is mandated by federal law.”

The Facts: Far from mandating full inclusion, federal law mandates placement in the least restrictive (least segregated) environment that is most appropriate for all students on a case-by-case basis, requiring schools to make available six placement alternatives (full continuum of services).  Only two of these options – a regular class with support services and a regular class with resource room support – directly involve general settings.  Most students are integrated; some require more intensive intervention in separate  classes, special schools, residential facilities, and home or hospital environments.

Myth 3: “Segregating students with disabilities has been effective.”  (“If it’s not broken, why fix it?”)

The Facts: The outcomes of systematic, segregated special education are unacceptable:  denial of civil rights, learned helplessness, social  distancing, and diminished quality of life.  Adults with disabilities are the least employed, poorest, least educated, most excluded of all Americans.  Five decades of research demonstrated the benefits of integration.  Consistent with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, “separate is not equal.”

Myth 4: “The cost of including students with special needs is prohibitive.  We can’t afford it.”

The Facts: Schools recognized for successfully achieving supported inclusive education are (1) saving money (segregation is expensive), (2) spending the same amount as when serving students separately, or (3) reporting national average increases of 3%.
Segregated schools and classes are far more expensive than providing quality support services.

Myth 5: “I’m sorry, but they have nothing to do with me.”  (The “THEM” and “US” mindset.)

The Facts: This is about all of us.  We all become disabled due to aging, unless we die first.  Any one of us may become severely disabled due to injury or illness.  This is the one minority group we all get to join.  What we do to improve quality of life for people with disabilities, we do for ourselves.

Myth 6: “Inclusion is another educational fad.  The pendulum will swing back to segregated education.”

The Facts: A return to completely segregated special education would take the repeal of two constitutional amendments (5th and 14th), the repeal of nearly 40 years of legislation, and overturning nearly 50 years of litigation.  This “fad” has been present for close to four decades.

Myth 7: “People with disabilities are an unfortunate drain on society.”

The Facts: Considering the ways society limits the lives of people with disabilities, it’s the other way around:  society is a drain on people with disabilities.  Significant contributions made by people with special needs to our communities are well documented.

Myth 8: “Don’t go into special education.  It’s being phased out because of inclusion.”

The Facts: The number of segregated settings for students with special needs has decreased, not special education.  There is a worldwide, nationwide shortage of special educators.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 20,000 new special education students a year (53% growth).  Between 2008 and 2018, the number of special educators is expected to increase by 17%, “faster than the average for all occupations” (Occupational Outlook Handbook).  Because of inclusion, we need more special educators than ever.

For more information and resources about inclusive education, visit Tom Mihail’s website.

The 8 Most Atrocious Myths About Inclusive Education

13 Disability Resources on the Web You May Not Know About

13 Disability Resources You May Not Know About

A few months ago we were contacted by a volunteer researcher with EducatorLabs. They said that they read our post on Literacy for All Learners and were interested in sharing some resources. They gave us an amazing list of links and we did not want to be stingy…so we are sharing  them with you. Here are 13 links to disability resources on the web that you may not know about. Below is the email we received by Educator Labs. They gave us permission to reprint the links.  

Hi there,

I’m a volunteer researcher with EducatorLabs. We recently began gathering resources for K-12 diverse abilities curriculum. The goal of the curriculum is to promote respect and appreciation among all classmates.

Our research work has turned up a large number of fantastic resources (like the ones listed here on your site: — thank you!).

I’m honored to be able to share some of the resources we’ve uncovered so far. I would love to be able to tell the team that you added some (or all!) of these to your site – please let me know if you do so I can show them how their efforts have benefited the internet at large.

Learning Disabilities Checklists and Worksheets

Family Health Guide to Learning Disabilities

Coping with Disabilities – National Caregivers Library

Benefits for People with Disabilities

Medicare and Social Security Disability: Benefits for Disabled Individuals

American Association on Health and Disability

Local Doctor Finder: Search by Disability

I Can Do It, You Can Do It!: President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition

ADA Accommodation for Swimming Pools

Siblings with Disabilities

Disability Home Accommodation Cost Guide

Disability and Health

Fire Safety & Disabilities Guide

Thank you for the gift of your time!

Educator Labs is an organization dedicated in providing a resource bank to educators and students worldwide. It is our mission to assist teachers in finding valuable resources for classroom use. To find out more visit

Photo Credit: Penn State University Libraries Architecture and Landscape Architecture Library/Flickr

Five Posts You Might Have Missed

Five Posts You Might Have Missed

Before we take a break for the holidays, we wanted to share with you some posts that you might have missed. We recently celebrated our 300th post (an amazing feat if we do say so ourselves). Don’t worry, we will be around before the end of the year to talk about all the exciting things planned for 2015. Check out these carefully curated posts from this past year and if you feel so inclined, share them with a friend or colleague.

1. 12 Things To Remember When Working With Challenging Students

Let’s face it. Some students are hard to work with for a litany of reasons. Maybe you are experiencing a challenging year in your classroom. Before you throw in the towel or give up hope, read this list of DOs and DON’Ts when encountering students who push you to the brink.

2. Young Man With An Autistic Twin Brother Makes Documentary About The History Of Special Education

Meet Miles Kredich, a teenager with a twin brother who has autism. Watch this short (8 minute) documentary that gives a history of special education and gives a great case for inclusive education.

3. On Being Joe’s Mom: Why Inclusion Is Important To This Mother

One of the most important speeches about inclusion and the mindset of a mother with a child with special needs that you will ever hear. Watch this ten minute video…it just might change how you think about parenting a child with a disability.

4. What Does Full Inclusion Really Mean?

I know that I do not have a corner on the truth. While belief systems and worldviews tend to get mired in rhetoric, the big picture of inclusion (specifically inclusive education) is far more forgiving. My aim in this piece is to clarify a big misconception about what full inclusion really means.

5. Why Bother Giving Access To Curriculum For Students With Significant Disabilities?

A 30+ year veteran teacher gives her thoughts on why it is important for students with significant disabilities to be given access to the general education curriculum. This is a must read if you are a teacher in a self-contained classroom.

Thanks for spending some time with us. If you have anything you would like to add please tell us about it in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: Michael/Flickr

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