Disability Inclusion: The Importance of Cultivating an Inclusive, Welcoming School Community for All

Session notes from “Disability Inclusion: The Importance of Cultivating an Inclusive, Welcoming School Community,” led by Debbie Fink, Stephanie Farfan, and Kyle Khachadurian.

What were the speaker’s main messages?

Schools/leaders must be intentional about bringing disability awareness and inclusion programs to their schools and communities. It positively impacts all!

What were the top ideas from the session?

  • We need to make sure that instruction is equally engaging and rigorous for all students in all settings. When we do not, it contributes to diminished self-perceptions and “internalized ableism.”
  • Even when we think we are offering the best we have to offer for students in specialized learning environments, we need to make sure students know how to be students so they are prepared beyond our schools.
  • 17 states have legislation in place that says disability studies should be taught to K-12 students. JustSayHi is one of the few available evidence-based curricula that can be used. Don’t wait to find something that is perfect; get started!

What is one strategy that you will implement immediately?

Determine where you can intentionally bring disability studies into your school and how to engage key stakeholders (educators, all students, and family members) into the conversation and action plan as well.

What is one strategy that will help you with instructional leadership?

We need to help all staff level up their understanding of disability and understanding student needs. Not all disabilities are the same, and involving more in the creation and implementation of the IEP can help make the personal side of the student come alive.

What are resources you will check out?

  • JustSayHiSchools.org – developmentally appropriate opportunity to build knowledge about: What is disability? Disability History and Laws, Making Connections, Power of Language, Breaking Down Stereotypes, and Welcoming Communities
  • Netflix’s Crip Camp

I can’t wait to tell my teachers about this idea:

The short animated movie Ian, which won the “Best Animation” award, is a great illustration of the experience of being different and not included in school. It can draw responses from students and adults about barriers, perspectives, and the changes which need to be made.

What are some relevant or surprising stats you learned?

Nationwide: 14 percent of students have IEPs and 2.7 percent of students have 504 plans. This does not include undiagnosed students or those in private, parochial, or charter schools. The disparity of what this looks like in different communities (overidentification and under-identification) illustrates it as a social issue and something which needs action by all!

Notes by Jess Hutchison, principal of Avoca West School, Glenview, Illinois.