Inclusive Education

Why This Topic is Important

    Schools are for learning information, skills, and much more. They help children develop values and responsibilities. They help children learn important lessons about life. If students miss out on these opportunities as children, they will surely miss out on more as adults. A quality education can pave the way for a life of opportunity and contribution. An education that does not prepare children for the future guarantees they won't have a future. All of these things are as true for young people with developmental disabilities as they are for all other children. 

    In 1954, the U.S. Federal Court ruled in Brown v. The Board of Education that separate is not equal. In 1970, twenty-five years later, exclusion was still the rule. According to the National Council on Disability: 1 

    In 1970, before enactment of the federal protections in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), schools in America educated only one in five students with disabilities. More than 1 million students were excluded from public schools, and another 3.5 million did not receive appropriate services. Many states had laws excluding certain students, including those who were blind, deaf, or labeled persons with "emotionally disturbance" or "mentally retardation." Almost 200,000 school-age children with developmental or emotional disabilities were institutionalized. The likelihood of exclusion was greater for children with disabilities living in low-income, ethnic and racial minority, or rural communities.

    In 1993, almost forty years after Brown, segregation and an unequal education were still the rule for children with developmental disabilities. Despite IDEA, in 1993, fewer than 7% of school-aged children with developmental disabilities were educated in general education classrooms. Forty-four states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) educated less than 9% of their students with developmental disabilities in general education classrooms.

    In 1997, the IDEA was reauthorized by the 105th Congress with a number of changes. P. L. 105-17 ensures that the education of children with disabilities moves from merely access to education to ensuring quality outcomes.

     The National Council on Disabilities documents the positive consequences that can result – 

    In the more than two decades since its enactment, IDEA implementation has produced important improvements in the quality and effectiveness of the public education received by millions of American children with disabilities. Today almost 6 million children and young people with disabilities ages 3 through 21 qualify for educational interventions under Part B of IDEA. Some of these students with disabilities are being educated in their neighborhood schools in regular classrooms. These children have a right to have support services and devices such as assistive listening systems, braille text books, paraprofessional supports, curricular modifications, talking computers, and speech synthesizers made available to them as needed to facilitate their learning side-by-side with their nondisabled peers. Post-secondary and employment opportunities are opening up for increasing numbers of young adults with disabilities as they leave high school. Post-school employment rates for youth served under Part B are twice that of older adults with disabilities who did not benefit from IDEA in school, and self-reports indicate that the percentage of college freshmen with a disability has almost tripled since 1978. 2

    But, the gap between law and practice continues – In the past 25 years, states have not met their general supervisory obligations to ensure compliance with the core civil rights requirements of IDEA at the local level. Children with disabilities and their families are required far too often to file complaints to ensure that the law is followed. The Federal Government has frequently failed to take effective action to enforce the civil rights protections of IDEA when federal officials determine that states have failed to ensure compliance with the law. Although Department of Education Secretary Richard W. Riley has been more aggressive in his efforts to monitor compliance and take formal enforcement action involving sanctions than all his predecessors combined, formal enforcement of IDEA has been very limited. 3

     The OSERS (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services) reported the following in 1999:

    In 1996-97, over 95 percent of students with disabilities received special education and related services in regular school buildings, and 46 percent were removed from regular classes for less than 21 percent of the day. 4

    The 1990s was the decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA outlaws segregation and discrimination based on disability. And still, inclusion and a quality education remain a vision, not a reality, for many. Success continues to be measured in terms of getting in the building.

    Just as with institutions, we can understand how segregated educational settings began. People with developmental disabilities were virtually denied free public education from the beginning of this century until the 1970s. The first step was to develop special schools, then special classrooms. Integration was first seen as being included in the public education system (special schools), then into public education schools (special classrooms). Now in the era of community and family living, inclusion, participation, and full citizenship, integration means inclusion in general education classrooms and activities.

1 Back to School on Civil Rights: Advancing the Federal Commitment to Leave No Child Behind. National Council on Disability, January 25, 2000.

2 Graduation rates have increased significantly for students with disabilities.

3 Back to School on Civil Rights: Advancing the Federal Commitment to Leave No Child Behind. National Council on Disability, January 25, 2000.

4 Twenty-first Annual Report to congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. U.S. Dept. of Education, 1999.


Creating the Learning Community in 2000

  1. An inclusive school should be a community where there is excellence in learning – children and adults are in a reciprocal learning process that is fun, engaging, relevant and affirmative, and meets the lifelong learning needs of everyone.
    • The learning environment should support a sense of community and respect for individual differences and abilities.
    • Community building and respect for individual differences best occurs when students of different backgrounds and abilities learn and socialize together in classrooms designed to develop and enhance the abilities of all children.


  1. Inclusion means that students: 5
    • Are included in general education classrooms and activities for both academic and social opportunities;
    • Receive an individualized education program which supports learning in the general education classroom and community settings;
    • Have the opportunity to participate in school social and extracurricular activities with peers without disabilities; and,
    • Attend schools in their own neighborhoods.

Questions to ask about a school's policies, practices, and educational opportunities:

  • Is there a school policy in support of inclusion?
  • Does the school administration emphasize the preparation of all students to live and work in the community?
  • Does the school leadership promote the inclusion of all students through written materials, presentations, conferences, flexible scheduling, building accessibility?
  • Do all school personnel receive annual in-service training on the values and implementation techniques of inclusive education?
  • Does the student attend the same school that would be attended if the student did not have a disability?
  • Does the student use the same transportation as students without disabilities?
  • Is the student's school day (length of day, time of arrival and departure) the same as the school day for students without disabilities?
  • Does the student participate in extracurricular activities with students without disabilities?
  • Do all special education school personnel support students in the general education classroom and/or community settings?
  • Are curriculum materials age appropriate?
  • Are curriculum materials used by students without disabilities of the same chronological age?
  • Do supports match the student's strengths, needs, preferences, interests?
  • Do curricular and extracurricular activities involve mutual interaction with students without disabilities?
  • Are educational objectives based on a comprehensive assessment of the student's strengths?

5 Separateness (separate-hood). The Arc U.S., Oct. 1992, p7. The Arc Report Card on including children with mental retardation in regular education. The Arc. U.S., 1992, p4.3.

Topics for Further Review

  • The benefits of inclusion for students with disabilities – more role models, a feeling of connectedness to the community and to their peers without disabilities, and an opportunity to develop relationships with more people from their neighborhood who attend the local school.
  • The benefits of inclusion for students already attending the neighborhood school – the opportunity to develop a relationship with a person who may be different in some ways, the chance to better understand the range of human differences, an opportunity perhaps to help someone in a truly interdependent world.
  • The difference between learning from your teacher and learning from your peers – positive role model carry-over, incidental learning, deductive learning, peer support, consensual validation of behaviors and positive skills, having something in common with a person without a disability which can lead to friendship and bonding. A teacher may be wonderful, but there are many more opportunities for learning than are represented merely by the student-teacher relationship.
  • Read the OSERS Report to Congress, particularly as it relates to your state.
  • Strategies for opening the doors for brothers, sisters and neighbors to all go to the same school and classrooms .
  • Using natural supports (such as peers and cross-age tutors) to facilitate inclusion.
  • The role technology can play in supporting a person in the general education classroom.
  • The relationship of Brown v. The Board of Education to the ADA.