We have reached the tipping point where it is no longer educationally or morally defensible to continue to segregate students with disabilities. We shouldn’t be striving to educate children in the least restrictive environment but rather in the most inclusive one.
Inclusion is founded on social justice principles in which all students are presumed competent and welcomed as valued members of all general education classes and extra-curricular activities in their local schools — participating and learning alongside their same-age peers in general education instruction based on the general curriculum, and experiencing meaningful social relationships.
We know inclusion works. In the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 2004Congress found: “Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”
The largest study of educational outcomes of 11,000 students with disabilities, the National Longitudinal Transition Study, showed that when students with disabilities spent more time in a general education classroom they were more likely to score higher on standardized tests of reading and math; have fewer absences from school; experience fewer referrals for disruptive behavior; and achieve more positive post-school outcomes such as a paying job, not living in segregated housing, and with having a broad and supportive social network. These results were true regardless of students’ disability, severity of disability, gender or socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, as the recent WNYC story states, the achievement of students without disabilities is not compromised by the presence of students with disabilities in their classrooms. Some studies even show that implementing inclusion on a school wide basis improves achievement for all students.
And just as important as academic outcomes are the attitudes and values that all students learn when they are educated together.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network says, “How children are treated in schools often mirrors how they will be treated in later life. As with other minorities, segregated school placements lead to a segregated society, whereas inclusion in the earliest years promotes increased opportunity and greater understanding of differences for all involved. A society that separates its children