top of page

3 Things About Teaching and Learning for Students With Disabilities

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

In February of 2021, Andrea Ruppar, a faculty member in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, recorded a video called “Three Things About Teaching and Learning for Students with Disabilities.”

In a Facebook post, Andrea said she “felt like the Micro Machine man trying to fit this into 2 1/2 minutes!” But we thought she did a fabulous job, so we wanted to share a captioned video along with a transcript with you.

Andrea covers three main points in her video:

  1. See the world from the student’s perspective

  2. Inclusion is non-negotiable — include everyone

  3. Set your expectations high for all students.

Watch the entire video and tell us which one resonates with you the most.

Video Transcript

Hi! I’m Andrea Ruppar. I’m a faculty member in special education. And today I’m going to share with you three things about teaching and learning for students with disabilities.

First, I want to preface this by saying there is nothing “special” about what I’m about to say, even though I’m a special educator; which is to say that none of it is particular to students with disabilities. However, studying kids with disabilities in schools can expose principles of teaching and learning that actually benefit everyone.

See the world from student’s point of view. Listen to students and what they are telling you… about a lesson, an interaction, an environment, a transition. For example, many kids with autism struggle when there is a transition from one activity to another. Often they are seen as “refusing” and being resistant. But actually, that “refusal” is really an expression of fear or anxiety. So when we see it that way, from the student’s POV, we can think of ways to help make the transition more predictable and to make the student feel safe.

The second is simple, but not easy: Inclusion is non-negotiable. There is no evidence that kids with disabilities learn better in “special” environments and overwhelming evidence that they learn better in general education classes. So include everyone, radically. Embrace this as part of your school culture. And remember that Inclusion is simple, but not easy. People always ask “what are good strategies for inclusion” or “we need new strategies.” It’s not a strategy. The strategy is inclusion. The strategy is to include everyone.

Check your assumptions. Many people actually feel bad holding students with disabilities to high standards. They feel like it might somehow be hurting the kids. This comes from a deep stereotype about people with disabilities — that they are sick and suffering, and their lives are a tragedy. Like they need palliative care, or a palliative type of education that just gets them through and eases their suffering due to their disability. But this is just not true. The truth is that there are barriers in schools and broader society that make life more difficult for people with disabilities — That’s the tragedy. That’s when people suffer. So low expectations are one example of a pretty pervasive barrier that disabled people experience. And schools disable kids by putting up barriers — some physical and some social. But we know that every time we raise our expectations for students with disabilities, they meet them. So set your expectations high, and let the kids show you what they can do. Don’t give into the temptation of not letting kids take risks in order to protect them from failing.

Thanks for listening.

…include everyone, radically. – Andrea Ruppar
bottom of page