2020 TASH Conference Opening Plenary

Updated: Jun 22

On Dec. 2, 2020, Dr. Carol Quirk presented “Creating a Culture of Inclusion: Why it’s important and how to get started” at the 2020 TASH Conference.



Audio Transcript

Michael Brogioli (00:00):

I have a nice task here today to kick off our opening plenary, “Creating a Culture of Inclusion: Why it’s Important.” And we have an outstanding keynote speaker, Dr. Carol Quirk. Carol is the founder and chief executive officer of the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, MCIE. For the last 30 years, Carol has worked with States, districts, schools, and families to promote inclusive education practices, including the design and implementation of the MCIE school transformation process resulting in systemic change in over 100 schools and the inclusion of hundreds of children with disabilities, especially those with extensive support needs. Carol not only works in our region here in the mid Atlantic, but across the country and indeed around the world. She’s helped promote inclusive education in places such as Russia, Kazic Stan and Vietnam.


Michael Brogioli (00:58):

Carol received her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University her master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Connecticut — go Huskies. And she has served in a variety of roles prior to her current role, including as a teacher of students with autism in Connecticut, a psychologist in a community living agency serving adults with developmental disabilities, and as a technical assistance director for early intervention programs in North Carolina among other things. Carol also served on the president’s committee for people with intellectual disabilities in 2011 and 2012. And she served on the task board of directors from 2006 to 2012, including two years as our president. So it’s great to have Dr. Carol Quirk. Carol, the floor is yours. We’re anticipating about a half-hour of remarks, and then a bit of time for questions at a quick Q&A at the end. So thank you and welcome. And we’re so glad you’re joining us.


Carol Quirk (01:55):

Thanks so much, Michael. I’m going to share my screen now, but it says I can’t do this unless the other screen is unshared. So I’m going to begin (and hopefully I’ll be able to share shortly) talking about the culture of inclusion and how to create a culture of inclusion, not just in schools, but in any community that you might be in. Now as a TASH member, all of you here as TASH members, you might be thinking, “Well, of course, we’re all here for inclusion, each and every one of us.” But do we actually experience a culture of inclusion? And I would say that many people don’t have that experience. So what I want to do is set kind of a framework in your mind for how we think about inclusive experiences and then not only why it’s important, but some steps to get started.


Carol Quirk (02:46):

So the first thing is to think about where. So, communities are where inclusion occurs. So if you think about where you live: the home in which you live, the geography in which you live. Could be a city, a suburb, it could be a rural community in Iowa, it could be a suburb of Chicago. It could be New York city or Los Angeles. Your community, your neighborhood can be wide, or it can be small, but within your community are a variety of opportuninites for you to engage. You may worship in a church or synagogue. And does that community accept you into that physical space and the social space? In your neighborhood school or the school you would go to if you didn’t have a disability, does that school welcome you in? And do you access all of the physical and social spaces within that environment?


Carol Quirk (03:40):

The same for employment, the same for the marketplace in your community, where you may want to use restaurants when we don’t have COVID and places where you may want to recreate. I added family in there because for people who have differences from the norm they may not always be accepted by extended family members. And so I think being welcomed into homes is also a part of thinking about where inclusion occurs. The thing is, though, when we think about these spaces, we’re thinking about a physical environment in which there occurs a social environment. And inclusion cannot occur if you’re not there. So the baseline for inclusion is physical presence, but we all know that physical presence in and of itself is insufficient to be included. How many times have any of you heard, “Well, inclusion doesn’t really work.” Well, I would say if inclusion doesn’t work, then it wasn’t inclusion.


Carol Quirk (04:39):

And so we’re going to talk a little bit about what makes a space inclusive. When we think about measuring inclusion we don’t have a lot of good measures. I’m just going to go back a minute. When we think about that space when we want to think about the measurement we can think about percent of people that are employed, percent of people accessing healthcare, percent of children with disabilities who are physically placed in gen ed settings. Because I’m in the education world, I am going to be talking a little bit more about school inclusion, but the things that I talk about I think can be applied to any of those spaces. So let’s look at the measure that we have for children with disabilities.

Carol Quirk (05:24):

For those of you who may not be acquainted with education measures for every child with an IEP. On the IEP, the team specifies the number of minutes, the actual number or percent of minutes that a child is in general settings or removed from general ed settings. And the term we need to think about is “removed from” — does not have access to. This is the most recent national data, and it is ranks our States and territories by the percent in which students with disabilities are placed in regular or general ed classes 80% or more of the day. And so you can see that there’s a wide variety and 64% on an average is not very high. What that means is of all children, each and every one with a disability, only 64% are receiving their education in general ed with their peers 80% or more of the day. And some of our States persistently are not including students. Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana are among our states that have the lowest rates of placement.


Carol Quirk (06:36):

Now I’m not going to call this inclusion, even though it’s the only measure we have, because it’s really only a measure of physical presence. Now I pulled out a couple of data points of students because you can get this based on a disability label. Now watch this. This is learners with autism. When you look at the rate of participation in general ed settings, it goes down for that population. Less than 40% of our children and youth in our school systems in this country participate in general education alongside their non-disabled peers almost all day. They are otherwise removed and receive instruction in special places that are segregated from their peers.


Carol Quirk (07:23):

Now, the next slide is going to show you children with intellectual disability. And this is a shame because what this is telling us is not just that these children are not included. They’re not there. They’re not placed in, they’re not in physical spaces where they’re participating alongside their peers. The higher rates of participation are, frankly, in the territories, in the Pacific islands. Iowa, Vermont, Kentucky, and Alabama consistently rate on the higher end. But you can see for our children with intellectual disabilities, it’s still not very high.

Carol Quirk (08:00):

So when we think about physical presence and being here, we’re thinking about being welcomed. And this is not a framework that I have made up, I’m relying heavily on my colleague, Cheryl Jorgensen, who most of you know or have heard of, and the books that she published on her own or with Michael McShane and Rae Sonnenmeier. And what they talk about is that inclusion is beyond access. It’s beyond participation. That’s just the base for inclusion to occur. So when we think about the next level, the layer on, we’re going to think about membership and a sense of belonging.


Carol Quirk (08:39):

And this I’m going to focus on a little bit more because this is so important. This is like a gateway. If you think about your own participation, whoever you are in any community, in a church community in a school community, employment community. You can think if you are in a school district at the district level, the district office and the people in your building is a community. In a school house, that’s a community. You can think of a state and a state agency, that is a community. And are we truly members and feel a sense of belonging in those communities? Interestingly, the research around membership and belonging most of it that I have found is in employment settings and in college campuses. The authors of these this research, mostly come from psychology and neuroscience, and they describe belonging and inclusion as being centered on gaining acceptance, attention, and support from members of a group. As well as providing the same attention to other members. So it’s a give and take.


Carol Quirk (09:48):

There was a study that was done by John Larmer and Lambert, and they found that a sense of belonging gives a sense of meaning to lives. And this is important because people who feel meaning in life are more likely to have good psychological health and physical health than those who are feeling like their life has less meaning. There was a study done by Ted Ogden at teacher’s college in Columbia University. And he conducted this with college students. So college age, 19 to 22, and he found that those students who had a greater sense of belonging, had greater feelings of value, and greater confidence in themselves. And he found that when there was a sense of what he called “belonging uncertainty,” there was a greater feeling of stress, lower engagement in activities in the college community, and lower achievement in academics over time.


Carol Quirk (10:44):

Now, granted, this is a college campus with students who may not have disabilities. But if you think about the age group, that’s not that far different from high school students. And why would we think that people who don’t have an identified disability would have a different desire or sense of belonging than somebody who does have a disability? The key message that a lot of these researchers described is that the me