Inclusion is a way of thinking and acting that allows the participation of all students in schools, regardless of their specific needs. It is important that educators recognize inclusion as a process, not an outcome. Inclusion involves adapting curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of students in general education classrooms. This can be achieved through differentiation, universal design for learning (UDL), and technology integration. In order to successfully implement inclusion practices in the classroom, teachers must have proper training and support from administrators.
But what does it mean to be included? Researchers define inclusion as: “the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity—in people, in the curriculum, in the community, and in society” (National Center for Learning Disabilities). It means that all students feel valued and have an equal chance to succeed academically. It also means that they are given opportunities to participate fully in school life. This can take many forms such as co-teaching or grouping students together to improve social skills.
Inclusion is about valuing everybody. It’s about respecting each other as individuals, helping each other to learn and grow, and appreciating the different contributions that we all make. It’s about making sure that everyone feels valued, has a voice, and is heard.
Inclusion means that every student feels they belong within a classroom, school, or district. There may be times when students need additional support or access to specialized teaching, but they are still able to be a part of the class community.
Inclusion is not a place; it is a process for creating environments in which all individuals feel welcomed, valued, included and supported. Just as important as what inclusion is what it IS NOT: Inclusion is NOT the same as integration or mainstreaming; inclusion does not take place until the individual with disabilities participates fully in activities with their peers without disabilities.
The path of social justice for persons with disabilities is not necessarily a smooth, straight road. There are often bumps, detours and other obstacles that interrupt the journey to inclusion. The quotes below encourage us to think about what it means to include individuals with disabilities in our communities and schools, and how we can best overcome the challenges we face along the way.
“I am not a special person, but I am a person with special needs—needs that are as important as any other human being who lives on this planet. All people have needs: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. My life is no less valuable than yours. The only thing that separates us is our ability to communicate what we need and feel inside. If you can hear my silence, then you will hear the cries of all humanity within it.” — Temple Grandin
“Inclusion is not about quantity; it’s about quality of life. It’s not the number of students who receive services but the kind of life they live because of those services that matters most.”― Peter G. Leone, Ph.D., Director of the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities at Kennedy Krieger Institute and Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Students with special needs are often able to thrive academically when they are included in the regular classroom. They benefit greatly from being exposed to age-appropriate curriculum and having access to all of the resources in the school, including books and technology.
When students with disabilities are included in regular classes, their non-disabled peers benefit as well. The students become more empathetic and understanding when they see a child with a disability succeed at an academic task or get along with other children.