Overcoming Barriers to Inclusive Education

Updated: Jul 1

The internet is rife with articles that articulate problems. There is a reason why the most visited post on Think Inclusive is The Biggest Barriers to Inclusive Education. But while the web is full of sharing what is wrong in our world, it is light on solutions.

While the following list should not be considered exhaustive, it is a start to addressing the barriers that inclusion advocates have been up against for decades. The ideas set forth heavily draw on two documents, Overcoming Barriers to Inclusion of Children with Disabilities: A Blueprint for Change and Inclusive Education in Maryland: A Blueprint for Change. Here are some possible solutions to some of the barriers to inclusive education.

Leadership Barriers

Inclusive education must be the expectation from the top-down not only at the school district level but at the state board of education level. For instance, the Maryland State Department of Education has made it priority to increase the percentage of students educated in the Least Restrictive Environment from year to year. Policies that explicitly state goals related to inclusive education are a great start.

In addition, at the school district level, MCIE has observed that when there is a shared understanding of inclusion from district leadership, it is communicated to all stakeholders in a more efficient way. Local boards of education can develop policy statements in support of inclusion and describe specific goals that they are working toward.

Beyond state and district leadership, investing in parents as advocates for inclusive education is essential to communicate to the families in a community that inclusion is an expectation. Many communities already have parent groups that advocate on behalf of students with disabilities. Inclusive education can also be prioritized in the communication of priorities for parent groups as well.

Attitude/Belief Barriers

One way to influence the attitudes and belief systems of educators is to get to them before they even become teachers. Once exposed to inclusion as a philosophy, it is easier for teachers to see how it plays out in the context of a school. Many special education credentialing programs are moving away from only teaching educators about disability characteristics and more about instructional modalities. In these programs, teachers learn how to be an advocate for their students and families, as well as how to encourage participation of their families.

Beyond preservice teachers, we can retrain district staff on the effectiveness of inclusive education. There is no shortage of research that proves that inclusive education works. When MCIE partners with schools to transform their practices, one of the first things we do is create a shared understanding of what inclusive education is and how to provide services differently. This is done with training and workshops over the course of a few months before the start of the next school year, where topics range from collaboration, to scheduling for natural proportions, to learning that disability is a natural part of the human condition.

Instructional Practice Barriers

A long-term dream for inclusive education advocates is that general and special education departments can be eliminated to form one education system. This is a not a new idea, and when discussions of inclusion were at a high point in the 1990s, there was plenty written about it. While there is certainly a space of specializing in certain kinds of support for students with disabilitie