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Inclusionary Education for Students with Disabilities: Keeping the Promise

Friday, December 30, 1994

December 30, 1994

National Council on Disability
1331 F Street, N.W.
Suite 1050
Washington, D.C. 20004-1107

(202) 272-2004 Voice
(202) 272-2074 TT
(202) 272-2022 Fax

The views contained in the report do not necessarily represent those of the Administration, as this document has not been subjected to the A-19 Executive Branch review process.


December 30, 1994

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The National Council on Disability is pleased to submit to you this report entitled, Inclusionary Education for Students with Disabilities: Keeping the Promise. This report details progress to date in achieving the goal of education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities in the Nation’s schools, continuing barriers to meeting the letter and spirit of the law, and recommendations for increasing opportunities for students with disabilities to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers in regular neighborhood schools.

As you know, the right of students with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment is solidly rooted in the provisions of the United States Constitution, particularly the guarantee of equal protection under the law granted to all citizens. This fact was recognized in 1975, when the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted in response to a growing number of State-level court decisions which mandated this protection in the States. This federal law was intended to provide financial assistance to the States in meeting their obligations under the United States Constitution and guidance in the delivery of special education and related services. Since this time, the federal government has invested billions of dollars in this area and has substantially improved opportunities for millions of Americans with disabilities to become self-sufficient, tax-paying citizens.

We are confident that this report will enable policy makers at all levels of government as well as practitioners, parents, and students with disabilities themselves in reducing barriers which continue to impede more inclusive educational opportunities. In addition, the report will serve as a vehicle for the dissemination of strategies for making inclusive education work. We believe that this will serve to further your goal …to shift disability policy in America away from exclusion, towards inclusion; away from dependence, towards independence; and away from paternalism, and towards empowerment. It remains an honor to serve you and to serve America in this vital work.



Marca Bristo

(The same letter of transmittal was sent to the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House of Representatives).



Marca Bristo, Chairperson
John A. Gannon, Vice Chairperson
Linda W. Allison
Ellis B. Bodron
Larry Brown, Jr.
Mary Ann Mobley Collins
Anthony H. Flack
Robert S. Muller
Bonnie O’Day
Mary M. Raether
Shirley W. Ryan
Anne C. Seggerman
Michael B. Unhjem
Kate Pew Wolters


Speed Davis, Acting Executive Director
Billie Jean Hill, Program Specialist
Ramona Lessen, Executive Assistant
Mark S. Quigley, Public Affairs Specialist
Brenda Bratton, Executive Secretary
Stacey S. Brown, Staff Assistant
Janice Mack, Administrative Officer


Nancy L. McTaggart and Edward P. Burke


The National Council on Disability wishes to express its sincere appreciation to the members of its Education Committee for their hard work and valuable suggestions; to Nancy L. McTaggart and Edward P. Burke, who analyzed thousands of pages of hearing transcripts, reports, court decisions, etc., in authoring this report; to Martin Gould, Ed.D., who provided valuable suggestions for organizing and editing the report; to Mark S. Quigley for report management and production; and to Diane Lipton for her technical review of the manuscript. Most of all, the National Council wishes to thank the many consumers, parents, advocates, professionals, and other interested citizens who took the time from their busy schedules to share their experiences and concerns with us.


Mary M. Raether, Chairperson
Anthony H. Flack
John A. Gannon
Robert S. Muller
George H. Oberle, P.E.D.
Shirley W. Ryan

By eliminating segregation in our schools, we are teaching kids that it is okay to be different and, in fact, there is beauty in diversity. They will see that we all have individual gifts and talents that we bring to life’s table and that this country’s founding principles of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness apply to all of its citizens.

- Debbie Rodriguez


Executive Summary


Why Inclusion?
What Is Inclusionary Education?

Examples of Successful Inclusion Across the Age Span

Success in Early Childhood Inclusion
Elementary School Success
Secondary School Success
Systemic Success
Inclusion in Assessment

Specific Strategies for Making Inclusion Work

Focus on the Whole School
Curricular Changes
Grading Policy Changes
Instructional Changes
Creative Use of Resources and Personnel
Collaborative Planning
Changes in Relationships
Training and Staff Development
Peer Preparation
Opportunities to Celebrate Accomplishments

Supports for Inclusion: The Role of Individual Plans, Assistive Technology, Personal Assistance Services, and Other Supports

Individual Plans
Assistive Technology
Personal Assistance Service Providers and Paraprofessionals
Social Support
Managing Support Services

Continuing Barriers Experienced by Parents and Students Seeking Inclusion

The Federal Government
State Government
School Districts
Informational and Emotional Barriers Facing Families
Particular Barriers Facing Minority Individuals in Seeking Inclusionary Education

Financing Inclusive Education: Barriers and Opportunities

The Creation of Incentives for Segregation in Illinois
A System of Funding That Facilitates Inclusion in Pennsylvania
A Flat-Rate System of Funding Is Not More Expensive Than a Categorical Funding System

Professional and Consumer Training in Inclusionary Education

Professional Training
Consumer Training

The Effect of Inclusion on the Total School

Inclusion Can Improve the Performance of Students Without Disabilities
Preparation for Inclusive Adult Life


Implement Strategies for Success
Improve and Expand Student Supports
Remove Administrative and Policy Barriers
Remove Financial Barriers
Improve Consumer and Professional Training


List of Witnesses
Definitions of Acronyms
Hearing Agenda
Mission of the National Council on Disability


When Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) in 1975, it sought to bring students with disabilities into our educational system who had previously been excluded, segregated, and underserved.

It is the purpose of this Act … to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate handicapped children.(1)

The right of students with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment is solidly rooted in the provisions of the United States Constitution, particularly the guarantee of equal protection under the law granted to all citizens. This fact was recognized in 1975 when P.L. 94-142 was enacted in response to a growing number of State-level court decisions which mandated this protection in the States. This Federal law was intended to provide financial assistance to the States in meeting their obligations under the United States Constitution and guidance in the delivery of special education and related services. Since that time, the Federal government has invested billions of dollars in this area and has substantially improved opportunities for millions of Americans with disabilities to become self-sufficient, tax-paying citizens.

P.L. 94-142 clearly required States to ensure that children with disabilities be educated with children who were not disabled and that other educational placements be considered only when the nature of the disability was such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services could not be achieved satisfactorily. P.L. 94-142’s successor, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, P.L. 102-119), contains similar provisions. However, after nearly twenty years of requiring that students with disabilities be considered for removal from regular classrooms only after every resource has been considered to support them in these classrooms, it is still the case that extremely high numbers of students with disabilities are placed in segregated environments, often with minimal (if any) consideration of how they might be supported in the regular classroom.

One possible explanation for this is that these students are “too handicapped” to be served in regular classrooms. Such an explanation may have had some currency in 1975. However, since this time there has been a vast increase in knowledge regarding inclusive educational practices, an explosion of technology, and a vast expansion of civil rights afforded to persons with disabilities. People who might have been considered “too handicapped” for an education twenty years ago are today working, living independently, and raising families.

The notion that some students are “too handicapped” to be served in a regular classroom with supports is also belied by the wide variation in placement data from State to State or even from school district to school district. Why is it that 60% of the students with the label of mental retardation are served in regular classes in Massachusetts while only 1/4 of 1% do so in the neighboring state of New York? Unless there is evidence of the fact that mental retardation is more serious in New York (and there is not), one must conclude that factors other than the nature and severity of the disability are involved here. A more fundamental question, however, is how–after so many years–can the government continue to allow Indiana, Louisiana, Florida, California, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, and New Jersey to serve more than 90% of their students with mental retardation in separate classes and schools?

It is clear that since 1975, the law of the land has been that students with disabilities should be provided with the opportunity to be educated “to the maximum extent appropriate” with non-disabled students, yet high levels of unnecessary and unwanted segregation persist. In recognition of this disturbing fact, the National Council on Disability decided to explore this issue through direct hearings and a review of documents. In August 1993, members of the National Council on Disability convened hearings in Chicago on the subject of “Making Inclusionary Education Work: Overcoming Barriers to Quality.” John Gannon, the Council’s Acting Chairperson, was clear about the goals of the hearing in his opening remarks:

Our purpose … is not to debate whether inclusion is a good idea. It is to discover that for students and families who want inclusive education whether they can receive what they want and how we might ensure that the education they receive is of the highest possible quality.

On August 4th and 5th, 1993, thirty witnesses presented information on a variety of complex topics relating to inclusionary education. Numerous others concerned about the issue shared their thoughts and experiences during the open microphone sessions that followed each panel of witnesses. The testimony was thoughtful, substantive, and useful in the Council’s continuing deliberations about the implementation of inclusionary education. This report presents our findings. From the outset, it should be noted that this report is concerned with barriers to–and opportunities for–inclusive education for those students and families who wish to access the promise and provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Act regarding the opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive environment with appropriate and individualized supplementary aids and services. A survey of each chapter follows.

Examples of Successful Inclusion Across the Age Span. Students with disabilities are being included at every level of the education system as a result of efforts by all of those concerned about them: parents, advocates, teachers, and administrators. In addition, the effectiveness of inclusive education is increasingly being evaluated by including children with disabilities in assessments of school performance.

Specific Strategies for Making Inclusion Work. Much has been learned about the strategies that make inclusion work from the experience of others. School staff that focus on changes in the school as a whole–curricular, grading policy, instructional strategies, use of resources–have been successful when given time for training and collaborative planning and opportunities to celebrate their achievements.

Supports for Inclusion: The Role of Individual Plans, Assistive Technology, Personal Assistance Services, and Other Supports. Some students with disabilities require additional supports in class–assistive technology, related services, and personal assistance providers–to receive an appropriate education. In order for these supports to complement classroom activities, planning for students should include the scheduling of supports at appropriate times. Students who will need assistance in later life will benefit greatly from learning to manage support services early in life.

Continuing Barriers Experienced by Parents and Students Seeking Inclusion. The fact that students with disabilities are included in some schools is all the more remarkable given the vast number of barriers that exist from the Federal government on down. In addition to the barriers faced by most students with disabilities, minority students with disabilities face even greater barriers to inclusion.

Financing Inclusive Education: Barriers and Opportunities. Of all of the barriers to inclusion, the single greatest factor seems to be the system of financing special education. While Federal policy contributes to the problem, the real obstacles lie in State financing rules. States vary in their approaches to it, though, and some formulas have resulted in increased inclusion of students with disabilities in regular schools.

Professional and Consumer Training in Inclusionary Education. The traditional division of teacher education programs between “special” and “regular” education perpetuates the segregation of student populations in schools. New teacher education programs need to prepare teachers who are skilled in working with all kinds of students, knowledgeable of effective teaching strategies, and competent in the content matter they will teach. Such programs would be of great benefit to the Nation in view of the ever-changing diversity of our culture.

The Effect of Inclusion on the Total School. One of the most striking effects of the implementation of inclusionary education is the contribution it makes to the education of all students. Inclusionary schools improve the academic performance of all students because of improved teaching methods, a focus on meeting the individual needs of all students, and a redeployment of skilled personnel throughout the building where they are available to assist students who need their help. Furthermore, students without disabilities are better prepared for their future in an inclusive world.

Given the above, the National Council on Disability has developed the following findings and recommendations for making inclusionary education work.

Implement Strategies for Success

When properly planned and implemented, inclusionary education improves the academic performance of all students, those with and those without disabilities. In addition, it can provide benefits to children that go beyond the academic skills they acquire, preparing them to live and work in a diverse world. As schools implement inclusion, they should use the process as an impetus for school-wide changes that benefit all students. Schools should:

  1. Adopt a school-wide curriculum and make modifications for all children who need them;
  2. Employ experiential, interactive educational methods proven to facilitate the learning of all students;
  3. Redeploy personnel as needed to meet the needs of the entire student population, and engage all staff in working to ensure the success of all students;
  4. Engage in collaborative planning with all of the stakeholders in the education of children with disabilities;
  5. Provide time for training, team-building, and planning so that staff and parents can work together for the changes that will benefit students;
  6. Treat students with disabilities as much the same as other students as possible (for example, having all students begin school on the same day);
  7. Enroll children with disabilities in educational programs with their non- disabled peers at the earliest point possible, preferably in preschool;
  8. With the provision of reasonable accommodations, include students with disabilities in all system-wide assessments of educational performance and public reporting of the results, at the same time ensuring that their scores can be disaggregated; and
  9. Publicly celebrate accomplishments.

Improve and Expand Student Supports

The successful inclusion of students with disabilities requires careful individualized planning regarding services and supports. These may include assistive technology, peer preparation, personal assistance services, paraprofessional support, or social integration planning. Schools should:

  1. Create plans which include:

    a. needed adaptations of curricula;

    b. the provision of supports and other accommodations such as sign language interpreters, accessible formats, etc.; and

    c. the careful scheduling of the above in order to enhance, not disrupt, the educational program of all students in the classroom;

  2. Identify and develop/acquire assistive technology for those students who need it, making it available for their use at home and in school;
  3. Prepare peers for the inclusion of a student with disabilities carefully, on an individual basis. (Note: Sometimes, such “preparation” may actually hamper integration);
  4. Plan the roles of necessary support personnel so that they do not foster dependence or segregation, and, where possible, assign the service provider to the classroom or the teacher, not to individual students;
  5. Engage the families of students with disabilities in planning to facilitate the social integration of their children inside and outside of the classroom; and,
  6. Teach students with disabilities to manage their support services so they can achieve independence.

Remove Administrative and Policy Barriers

In spite of the legal requirements that students be educated in the least restrictive environment, major barriers to the inclusion of students with disabilities in classrooms with their non-disabled peers still exist.

In order to reduce these barriers, the Federal government should:

  1. Significantly increase the monitoring and enforcement of current laws and regulations through State plan reviews, consumer-oriented monitoring visits and reports, issuance of appropriate sanctions for non-compliance, Annual Reports to Congress, and the establishment of a fair and effective parental appeal process to the Secretary of the Department of Education;
  2. Disallow joint grant applications from multiple education agencies, a policy which tacitly endorses segregated special education programs;
  3. Modify current accounting requirements in order to eliminate incentives to place children in segregated educational placements because of the ease of compliance with current reporting requirements;
  4. Clarify and publicize IDEA regulations which require school districts to pay the legal expenses of parents who exercise their due process rights to secure an appropriate education for their children with disabilities and prevail at the due process hearings;
  5. Require districts to pay all related costs for surrogate parents who exercise due process rights to secure an appropriate education for a child with a disability;
  6. Review the results of all due process hearing decisions related to inclusion and use these results as a guide to improving and enhancing inclusionary education policies and practices;
  7. Develop standards and procedures for processing appeals by parents to the Secretary of the Department of Education.

State governments should:

  1. Alter school finance policies to eliminate provisions which encourage segregation;
  2. Amend their laws and regulations governing teacher certification to require that all teacher candidates be qualified and competent to teach all students at their certification level; and
  3. Prohibit local school districts from entering into collective bargaining agreements which result, de facto, in violations of the rights of students with disabilities provided by Federal law.

School districts should:

  1. Rescind policies and practices that place and keep students in unwanted segregated placements;
  2. Provide parents information about their rights to inclusive placements for students with disabilities;
  3. Eliminate the disproportionate identification of minority children as needing special education and rectify the disproportionate segregation of these children by race and disability classification; and
  4. Provide educational support services to children with disabilities who need them without requiring them to be labeled and placed in special education programs to obtain services.

Remove Financial Barriers

Perhaps the single greatest barrier to the implementation of inclusionary education is the financing practices and policies of the various States. Because States distribute both State and Federal dollars for special education, they have a great impact on the practices of local educational agencies. Through a variety of funding mechanisms, they create disincentives to the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms and, in fact, often create incentives for districts to place students with disabilities in segregated educational programs. With changes in laws and regulations States can reverse those incentives in order to facilitate inclusion. States should:

  1. Send funding directly to the local school district, not to intermediate level educational agencies where it is often used to support segregated education;
  2. Require the involvement of parents and persons with disabilities in local decision making;
  3. Eliminate all requirements that funding be tied to particular kinds of placements, expenditures, or categories of personnel;
  4. Remove discrepancies in funding allotted to local educational agencies for children with disabilities based on the educational placement–neighborhood school, segregated special education facility, or residential school;
  5. Require districts to provide the neighborhood school that enrolls a child with a disability the same amount of money that would otherwise have been spent in a segregated placement;
  6. Ensure that principals have the discretion to use funding as needed to improve educational programs in their school and are held accountable for the educational outcomes the child achieves, not just the expenditures they have made; and
  7. Allocate funding according to a “placement-neutral” process, whereby funding is tied directly to a student’s needs, not to specific placements. For example, the option of a funding model based on a presumption of a proportionate incidence of children with disabilities in a school population rather than on the labeling and counting of individual children with disabilities might be appropriate in many districts.

The Federal government should:

  1. Consider allowing States the option of allocating funds according to a “placement-neutral” process, whereby funding is tied directly to a student’s needs, not to specific placements. For example, the option of a funding model based on a presumption of a proportionate incidence of children with disabilities in a school population rather than on the labeling and counting of individual children with disabilities might be appropriate in many districts.

Improve Consumer and Professional Training

Inclusion requires parents, teachers, and other school staff to work together in new ways. Parents need to change their expectations for their children, both in terms of goals and individual programming, when they enter an inclusive classroom. Teachers need to work with a more diverse population, relying on support from parents and others to assist them and all their students. Additional school staff, previously accustomed to others being responsible for students with disabilities, need to learn how to assist and support them.

Unfortunately, existing preservice teacher preparation programs are most often divided into special and regular education sections. They perpetuate teacher attitudes, skills, and confidence which make inclusion difficult at best. In order to change this situation:

The Federal government should:

  1. Modify regulations relating to a Comprehensive System of Personnel Development in order to require plans for preparing teachers and related service personnel for work in inclusive educational environments; and
  2. Condition its grants to institutions of higher education for personnel development on the elimination of the division between special and regular education teacher preparation programs and, instead, support the preparation of all teachers for inclusive classrooms.

States should:

  1. Change bureaucratic teacher certification requirements which make it difficult and, in some cases, illegal for some teachers to work with students with different (dis)abilities;
  2. Eliminate the linkages between funding allocations and teacher certification; and
  3. Monitor and reward colleges and universities for the quality of the training they provide to teachers and administrators in the area of inclusion.

Professional training programs should:

  1. Require all teacher candidates to demonstrate competency in teaching in inclusive classrooms.
  2. Prepare all teacher candidates to:

    a. Use instructional methods which enable children with and without disabilities to learn efficiently and effectively;

    b. Understand when to use particular methods with children with disabilities;

    c. Engender a high level of respect and safeguard the human and civil rights of all children;

    d. Be skilled in communicating and collaborating with parents; and

    e. Be knowledgeable of the subject matter they are expected to teach.

  3. Eliminate the division between regular and special education preparation programs.

Parent training programs should:

  1. Assist parents in learning how to be effective advocates for their children in seeking inclusive placements and skilled collaborators when planning with educators for their children;
  2. Educate parents about the advantages of inclusion and how it relates to their child; and
  3. Familiarize parents with the instructional methods available to assist their children.

With the passage of P.L. 94-142 in 1975, a new era of opportunity dawned for students with disabilities. In response to the exclusion and abuse of children with disabilities, Congress promised quality education provided to the maximum extent possible in the presence of other non-disabled children, from their neighborhoods, from their families. This promise has been broken in far too many instances. It is our hope that the information contained in this report will assist Congress, as well as Federal, State, and local education officials, teachers, parents, and students with disabilities themselves in ensuring that the promises of quality inclusionary education can and will be kept.


We have to look around and see that there are no “special needs” McDonald’s, no “special needs” malls, no “special needs” hotels. In fact, there are fewer and fewer “special needs” work sites and institutions. It is an integrated world in terms of ethnicity, language, and also ability. What better place to start than when children are young and in schools?

- Dr. William Henderson

In 1990, Congress declared that “the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities” were “full equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.“ (2) In so doing, it affirmed its commitment to full equality of opportunity made almost twenty years ago when it found that

More than half of the [eight million] handicapped children in the United States do not receive appropriate educational services which would enable them to have full equality of opportunity.(3)

To ensure the achievement of full equality, Congress in 1975 enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA),(4) creating a new Federal guarantee of “a free appropriate public education” to every child with a disability in need of special education. To accomplish this end, it allocated and appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars, required integrated educational settings “to the maximum extent appropriate,” created a preference in the law for integrated educational settings, prescribed a mechanism for planning each child’s educational program, gave parents extraordinary powers to advocate for their children, and directed what is now the U.S. Department of Education to monitor the implementation of the law, to enforce it when it was violated, and to report back annually to Congress on its status.

Almost twenty years have passed since the EHA was passed and an entire generation of children with disabilities, entitled to the “free appropriate public education” Congress promised, has completed school. In spite of the law’s existence, the goal of “full equality of opportunity” is far from being achieved.

  • Students with disabilities graduate at lower rates than students without disabilities:

    83% of all students complete school; 56% of students with disabilities do so; (5)

  • students with disabilities leave school with skills that are inferior to their non- disabled peers:

    Even those students with disabilities who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college admission consistently scored below students without disabilities; similarly, students with disabilities who took the National Assessment of Education Performance State Math Test consistently scored below students without disabilities; (6)

  • and, not surprisingly, students with disabilities are far less likely to find a job:

    The unemployment rate of people with disabilities remains at 67%. (7)

The improvement of special education policy has been a long-standing priority for the National Council on Disability. In 1991, the Council initiated the study, Serving the Nation’s Students with Disabilities: Progress and Prospects, to assess the status of special education. Among its findings was irrefutable evidence of the failure of America’s schools to educate children with disabilities “to the maximum extent appropriate … with children who are not disabled,” a requirement which has been in the law for more than fifteen years.

In [the Office of Special Education Programs’] monitoring of 26 states for the period April 1989 to February 1992, 143 of 165 local education agencies visited were cited to be in varying degrees of noncompliance with Federal and State least restrictive environment (8) mandates.(9)

Consistent with the original intent of Congress, the National Council on Disability believes that students with disabilities must have every opportunity to be educated with non-disabled students in order to achieve full equality in education and throughout life. Thus, the Council undertook two additional efforts to study inclusive education.(10) First, it conducted public hearings regarding inclusionary education. Second, in conjunction with the Pathways Awareness Foundation, it funded a study by the Education Development Center to explore in-depth the policies and practices of two states, Massachusetts and Illinois, as they relate to inclusion.(11)

In August 1993, members of the National Council on Disability convened hearings in Chicago on the subject of “Making Inclusionary Education Work: Overcoming Barriers to Quality.” John Gannon, the Council’s Acting Chairperson, was clear about the goals of the hearing in his opening remarks:

Our purpose … is not to debate whether inclusion is a good idea. It is to discover that for students and families who want inclusive education whether they can receive what they want and how we might ensure that the education they receive is of the highest possible quality.

On August 4th and 5th, 1993, thirty witnesses presented information on a variety of complex topics relating to inclusionary education. Numerous others concerned about the issue shared their thoughts and experiences during the open microphone sessions that followed each panel of witnesses. The testimony was thoughtful, substantive, and useful in the Council’s continuing deliberations about the implementation of inclusionary education.

It should be noted that this report is concerned with barriers to–and opportunities for–inclusive education for those students and families who wish to access the promise and provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act regarding the opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive environment with appropriate and individualized supplementary aids and services. There continue to be individuals and groups who feel that the least restrictive environment for them is a separate placement. For example, some students who are deaf and their families believe that separate placements are preferable due to communication and cultural barriers that might exist in regular classrooms for deaf students. However, even within the deaf community there are those who would prefer an inclusionary education. All too often, these individuals have difficulty in obtaining inclusive placements because of the failure of school districts to provide the supplementary aids and services that might make an inclusive education an option. Insensitive and inflexible school district practices can result in the practice of “dumping,” whereby districts refuse to provide appropriate and individualized aids and services to students with disabilities within regular classroom environments. This is a grave disservice to students, families, teachers, and other professionals. While this report details the widespread and continued ignorance regarding the rights of students with disabilities to be educated in the “least restrictive environment” and calls for a vast increase in inclusionary educational opportunities for students with disabilities, it in no way supports the elimination of services and supports which are both appropriate and individualized and result in the highest level of achievement for students with disabilities in the Nation’s schools.

The National Council on Disability supports the principles embodied in the IDEA which create a positive presumption that students with disabilities should be educated in regular education classrooms in their neighborhood schools. Unfortunately, inclusionary education as envisioned in the law remains an elusive option for a great number of students with disabilities. The present report reflects the findings of its hearings, additional research it has commissioned, and its commitment to full implementation of the laws of this country consistent with the national policy goals articulated in both the IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The current administrative, financial, and political pressures which result in the unnecessary segregation of children with disabilities in the country’s schools represent both an unintended distortion of the law and an unacceptable substitute for the provision of a free appropriate public education required by law. The National Council on Disability strongly urges the Administration and Congress as well as Federal, State, and local officials, parents and students to implement the many recommendations made in this report in order to promote full equality of opportunity in America.

Why Inclusion?

I don’t want to leave this school. It is not a good feeling to know that you don’t learn right…. Other people will know because you have to ride that bus with the other children who don’t learn right or can’t walk right. That tells everyone you are an empty moonhead. It hurts to be called names.

- Shawn, as quoted by Carol Melnick

Witness after witness testified to the pain and shame that segregation has caused people with disabilities over the years.

We need to understand, as a society, the tragedy that goes on every day in our country when we segregate people through our educational systems and through institutionalization, just because they have disabilities. We cut people’s lives short because they believe they have nothing to live for.

- Max Starkloff

For some, the above statements provide sufficient reason to end the practice of segregated education for students with disabilities. However, there are other reasons as well:

The system of segregating children with disabilities from others in their school-age years perpetuates barriers throughout life.

Each day I experience what exclusion has done. People my age see my wheelchair and cannot relate to me as another human being. The wheelchair is an assistive device that increases my mobility, yet strangers who are otherwise very intelligent and personable people panic and become dumbfounded if they have to interact with me. I’m seen as special, exceptional, brave, and courageous just by existing.

- Kathleen Winter

And when examined in terms of its value as an educational practice, segregated special education is extremely limited in its contribution to the achievement of our national policy goals.

Kids with disabilities are expected to have upon graduating from high school … these three things: a job, friends, and a place to live.

When we looked at the seven special ed schools [in Vermont], we found that most of those kids … “dropped off the cliff” after graduation and became non-participatory in their communities, where they did not have any friends, where they did not have a job.

- Rick Douglas

Could those students have achieved more? Larry Gorski from the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in Chicago explained the difference education in a regular school made for him.

In my graduating class of 1965 [from Lane Tech High School in Chicago], there were 973 graduates. Ninety percent of us went to college and a lot of us graduated.

Now when I went to Lane Tech, I did not have a disability. I became disabled a few years later in college. Had I been disabled at birth or early in life in the ’60s, there was only one high school in Chicago that I could have gone to [a segregated high school]…. If you go back, you’ll look at their graduation records…. Out of about 90 or 100 graduates in 1965, one graduated from the University of Illinois and one went one semester to the University of Illinois, and that was it.

What’s the difference? It was only by virtue of the difference in the opportunity available to them and the choices that they had and the options they had for their education and their future. I wouldn’t be sitting here today, quite frankly, in this position were it not for the choices and opportunities I had in my educational background. Unfortunately, many of my age cohorts who have disabilities do not have those options because they were disabled earlier in life. That is blatantly unfair and that’s the reason why inclusionary education has to be the primary goal of our educational system.

What Is Inclusionary Education?

Inclusionary education is the name given to the implementation of the requirement that children with disabilities be educated with children who are not disabled “to the maximum extent appropriate, as stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.(12)

In practice it means that the discussion of every child’s education should begin with the assumption that the child should attend the neighborhood school he or she would attend if he or she were not disabled.

What should happen is that you look at this kid and you say, “You are in the intended zone for the Booker T. Washington School. That is where you are going to go. What do you need to be able to make that successful?”

- Mark Partin

Only if “education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily,” (13)may a placement outside of the child’s regular class be considered. And then more questions need to be asked in order to ensure that the decision made about the child’s place of education is truly the appropriate one for him or her and not merely based on past practice and habit. Finally, parental and/or student involvement is critical. The decision to place a student in any setting other than a regular classroom needs to be based on an informed choice and non-prejudicial information.

How would [the child] better be served in another setting? What are the problems? What are we not doing to make that child succeed in the way you want?

- Catherine Bushbacher

Congress was wise in its formulation of the law. Children are well served by focusing an individualized inquiry on the provision of specific supports and services needed to ensure each child’s success in the regular classroom, rather than on the identification of an existing location which claims to have the services the child needs, necessitating his or her subsequent move to a segregated placement.

When we sit down at the table to develop the IEP, we develop an IEP with the child as a regular ed child first. Then we decide what specialized services they need outside of that regular curriculum or whether somebody needs to come in and assist this child to stay in that environment. That is inclusion!

- Charlene Green


A friend of mine has a child with Down syndrome. It was difficult for her to have the child go into an inclusive classroom. She was very nervous and concerned about it. The first day that her Jennifer came home, she came in just bubbling and said, “Mommy, I’m a real second grader now!” That’s the whole point: to let children like Jennifer know they’re regular kids, too.

- Margaret C. Daley

Throughout the two days of hearings in Chicago conducted by the National Council on Disability, witnesses told stories about the successful inclusion of individual children with disabilities in their neighborhood schools, cited statistics measuring inclusion, and described successful programs which schools, districts, States, and the Federal government are implementing to ensure inclusion.

One of the most remarkable discoveries concerning the implementation of inclusion at this time is the remarkable variety of ways in which inclusion is being achieved. In some situations, individual parents and educators are pressing individual schools to change to enroll a single child with a disability. In others, educators are working together to make comprehensive changes in their individual schools to welcome and educate all children. State and Federal governments and nonprofit organizations are also making major contributions to bring about systemic change. All of these approaches to inclusion are occurring at every level in public education.

Success in Early Childhood Inclusion

One of the most striking aspects of the brief story about Jennifer [above] is the fact that even by the beginning of second grade, she already believed that she was not a “real” student. Throughout the hearings, witnesses repeatedly stressed the importance of early childhood programs to ensure later successful integration. Young children accept differences easily:

You can put a kid with a disability in with a group of other kids when they are all three or four [years old], and the other kids will just think he’s another kid.

- Mark Partin

When children with disabilities receive the supports they need from a very young age in inclusive classrooms, their potential to develop the physical, psychological and social skills required to be full participants in their communities is greatly enhanced.

When I first met Joseph, he was a charming preschooler with an exceptional vocabulary and an inquisitive mind that needed nurturing. Like any child, Joseph needed an opportunity to explore his environment. His mom fought and won the battle to secure a motorized wheelchair for Joe at a very young age. A means of independent mobility not only has practical aspects: it can go a long way in fostering self-esteem and promoting socialization. His ability to keep up with the gang and, of course, his wonderful personality helped him to form friendships and prompted his first grade sweetheart to write a wonderful story about “the magic wheelchair.”

- Mary Beth Gahan

The significance of early preparation for integration was reinforced by one mother’s testimony about her child’s educational experiences from an early intervention program through sixth grade.

My own daughter was born to Dave and I on March 3, 1980, with Down syndrome and congenital heart disease. She was lucky to be born in the early 1980s because she is the first product of infant stimulation and early intervention programs. It is Vicki’s generation of students with disabilities who will be the benchmark for how successful good quality educational experiences can and should be.

When she was seven years old, Vicki was socially integrated into kindergarten, yet based in a special education classroom. For the past six years Vicki has been a regular education student using special education supports. The success of this venture shows in Vicki’s strong social skills and in her academic needs continually being challenged and met. She is going to be in the sixth grade this fall with the same students who have known her since first grade. She is part of their class and they are a part of her class.

Successful integration for Vicki has come rather easily … due to having open-minded and creative elementary school principals in our neighborhood school who have embraced the philosophy of doing what is best for every student. Vicki’s academic and personal needs have the same value as every other student enrolled in her school. The integrated educational opportunities that she experiences today will lead to Vicki being included into an integrated community for the rest of her life.

- Carol Reedstrom

In recognition of the importance of inclusion in the early years, one State has funded a nonprofit organization to facilitate inclusion in the preschool years.

In Arkansas, a firm commitment to least restrictive environment mandates and the spirit of collaboration have taken root. In 1987, Project KIDS was initiated by the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) through a Developmental Disabilities Planning Council grant focusing on providing integrated preschool experiences for children with developmental disabilities, birth through five years old. The project provides placements into cooperating day care centers and offers ongoing technical assistance to these Center staff.

- Dr. Martin Gould

Elementary School Success

A four-year-old girl became disabled when a bicycle she was on hit a pot hole on the street and overturned, causing her to sustain a spinal cord injury. The administration and faculty were excited about this young girl coming to their school. Their enthusiasm was based on the added diversity they will have in their student population, the opportunity to make their physical facilities accessible, and the opportunity to be a leader in inclusionary education.

- Max Starkloff

Inclusion at the elementary school level occurs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the presence of a single child with a disability may cause school personnel to change their policies and practices in order to include him or her. In other situations, outside organizations may help many students with disabilities gain admission to their neighborhood schools. In St. Louis, Missouri, a nonprofit organization is facilitating the inclusion of students with disabilities in school and out of school.

For about seven years, Paraquad has operated a youth and family program for both disabled and non-disabled children as a transition program to inclusionary education. This program has grown to serve more than 75 families, the vast majority being families of children with disabilities. The philosophy is built around leadership development, which includes career exploration, boat trips, systems advocacy, dog sled trips, and testifying before legislative bodies. A majority of the children who are disabled were in special schools prior to entering the program. They have now been successfully mainstreamed.

- Max Starkloff

In some cases inclusion does not come through changes in an existing school, but is incorporated into the initial design of a school.

In Frederick, Maryland, a bold new step was taken in 1992 with the opening of Twinridge Elementary School. Following its initial design plans, Twinridge staff included neighborhood children with special education needs in regular classrooms with necessary aids and supports. Twinridge’s inclusionary education program serves children with a diverse range of needs from kindergarten to grade five. Twinridge is gearing up for its next year of operation during 1993-94, and there is every sign that the program’s momentum and the school’s staff are fueled for a second year of success.

- Dr. Martin Gould

Individual principals with a commitment to inclusion can lead staff to transform schools which previously segregated students with disabilities. Two such principals described the effect of inclusion in their elementary schools. Dr. William Henderson of the O’Hearn Elementary School in Boston shared the effects inclusion has had on his school’s student population:

We serve students from the age of three up through grade five. Our school reflects the ethnic and linguistic diversity of Boston and we also have a diversity in terms of ability. Approximately 25% of our students are considered to have moderate to severe disabilities.

Most of our students have done very well in terms of looking at indicators of whether they have obtained the goals listed in their IEPs, whether we are talking about standardized test scores or looking at students’ portfolios.

Before O’Hearn became a full inclusion school in September of 1989, we had vacancies at every grade level. Now going into the school year, we are fully enrolled at every grade level and some of our waiting lists are five times our capacity. We are clearly one of the most popular schools in Boston, one of the schools with the lowest transfer rates.

Inclusion has been advantageous for all of the children in the school and is recognized as such by the community of people who have chosen to send their children–with and without disabilities–to O’Hearn Elementary School.

Another principal, Catherine Bushbacher, spoke of the strategies used at her Chicago elementary school to implement inclusion and the benefits students have received:

The Peter A. Reinberg School has 727 students. Of these students, 290 have some special needs…. Almost every level you can imagine as labeled, we serve. Our class size in Chicago is 28 in the primary grades and 32 in the upper grades…. I can’t change those numbers. So when we looked at our large number of special education children and our large number of children that we would call the typical program, we knew that something had to give. What we came up with is to teach cooperatively. We use the class size that’s mandated by our contract. We use the demands that we have upon us to make our situation work, and I feel it works very successfully…. Children are totally included from kindergarten on up.

Many of our teachers will tell you stories where children who have a disability would help someone else. We also have a very large Polish bilingual population. We have one girl specifically who is Polish bilingual and deaf. She would automatically translate for a new Polish immigrant the teacher’s lesson for another child next to her into Polish. So it became a matter of one child helping another…. We started realizing that we were the ones arbitrarily stopping these children from dealing with each other.

In both instances, these principals worked with their staff and communities to transform their schools. They moved from practices which segregated students with disabilities to full inclusion. Information concerning the strategies they used to accomplish this is included in later chapters.

Private schools, too, are including children with disabilities and, like O’Hearn, are finding that inclusion does not discourage parents from sending their children with and without disabilities to them:

In St. Louis, there is an example of a successful program in inclusive education. The Bell School has had a program of inclusion for several years which has drawn a great deal of attention. It is in great demand by parents with both non-disabled and disabled children. It has a diverse student population which has done an excellent job of ensuring that disability is included within this diverse school.

- Max Starkloff

While many children with and without disabilities benefit from the successful implementation of inclusion in individual schools, the impact of those successes goes beyond the individual school. Frequently, successful implementation of inclusion in one school results in its adoption in others.

In Forest Lake, Minnesota, a collaborative university-school district relationship established the Achieving Membership Program. The program began by returning three students with disabilities to their home school, Scandia Elementary, beginning in the 1990-91 school year. In the 1992-93 school year, five other elementary schools in the Forest Lake District are now welcoming students with severe disabilities into general education classes. Annual activities which support this growing collaborative relationship include: integration and social network checklists for each student; peer observations; peer, parent, and support staff interviews; stages-of-concern questionnaires, ongoing training opportunities; and monthly updates about achievements from the program.

- Dr. Martin Gould

Secondary School Success

Some critics suggest that inclusion is more feasible in the early years than at the secondary school level. Although inclusion at the earliest stages of education is desirable, it can also be very successful when the child is integrated in the later school years. One parent described her daughter’s experience:

My daughter has just finished her freshman year [in high school]. This is the fifth year that she has been in an inclusive educational environment. She is the first child at our high school with significant multiple disabilities who has been totally included. I can only tell you it’s gone beautifully because I come from a district and a co-op that honors the individual program for my child.

- Linda Effner

As students reach secondary school, the issues related to their education broaden to include planning for life after high school. Some students with disabilities require more services in adult life than their peers without disabilities and, thus, more careful coordination with adult service providers. In Nashua, New Hampshire, the school district has worked with State and private agencies to facilitate the transition of students from inclusive classrooms to integrated work and life within the community:

In Nashua, New Hampshire, the public school system has demonstrated a progressive commitment to an inclusionary educational system–at the secondary level–which is paired with the notion of natural supports in the workplace. Like their counterparts at the State level, Nashua-based agencies in general and special education, vocational education, and vocational rehabilitation have developed interagency agreements regarding youth transitioning from school to work. These agencies are developing common administrative procedures, a common data base, and a common vision for quality jobs for all graduates. In addition, generic community organizations such as the Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Family Support Council, and Town Council are all working with a local transition/employment consortium to support the district-wide commitment to inclusionary education at the secondary level.

- Dr. Martin Gould

Systemic Success

Alaska serves 99.83% of all its students in neighborhood public schools…. New Mexico serves 91.5% of its students with multiple disabilities in neighborhood public schools.

- Dr. Martin Gould

Although many of the examples cited above describe inclusion in individual schools, it is important to note that they are not merely isolated local examples. Children with disabilities are included in large numbers in neighborhood public schools throughout some States. In those instances in which the Federal and State governments are supporting inclusion on a system-wide basis, it is successfully being implemented.

The Federal government has awarded Systems Change Grants to foster inclusion in a number of States. In California, a grant to the California Research Institute supported the creation of the Peers Project.

The Peers Project assisted more than 3,000 students with severe disabilities to transition from segregated special education centers to either age appropriate general education campuses or classrooms. The Peers Project developed and disseminated project products, including collaborative manuals with the California Research Institute, to the 250 local education agencies receiving Peers training and technical assistance as well as to the 200 LEAs that did not receive direct assistance.

- Amy Bennett

Dr. Barbara LeRoy, the Project Coordinator for Michigan’s federally funded Systems Change Grant for Inclusive Education, described the progress the grant has fostered through its four years.

To date, over 1,500 students with moderate and severe disabilities have been supported in moving from segregated, special education-only schools and classrooms to full-time placement in same age regular education classrooms as a result of the project’s outreach training activities. In addition to that, another 3,000 to 4,000 students [with disabilities] have moved into regular classrooms as a result of the inservice training we have been providing to teachers. Twenty school districts throughout the State serve as model demonstration sites, while an additional 35 districts have implemented inclusive education on a limited basis. More importantly, the project has been instrumental in assisting the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education in establishing policies and rule changes that support one system of education for all children.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

The State of Indiana has demonstrated its commitment to inclusion by offering small grants to support pilot programs. The response to the initiative suggests that interest in inclusion is growing.

Indiana inclusion pilot sites have been in operation for this past year. In the 1992 session of the Indiana General Assembly, $200,000 was appropriated for up to 10 special education inclusion pilot sites. We had over 30 applications for the 10 sites, and these initiatives involved single buildings to initiatives for up to 24 buildings in two adjoining school corporations.

- Paul Ash

Inclusion in Assessment

Although the inclusion of children with disabilities in classrooms with their non-disabled peers is a necessary and significant step forward, more is needed. For many years, the educational achievements of students with disabilities have neither been assessed nor reported in State and Federal evaluations. Such information would be useful in a variety of ways, just as it is for students without disabilities.

One use of standardized assessment results would be found in measuring the effect of inclusion on students with disabilities. One statistical measure of the impact of inclusion on students with disabilities is the relationship between the rate that students with disabilities are included in regular education programs and the graduation rates of students with disabilities in the same state.

How can we tell if inclusionary education is working well in terms of student outcomes? One way is by examining reported inclusion rates and graduation rates for all 50 States and Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The most striking detail about the information is the comparison between the six States with the lowest rates of inclusion and the nine States with the highest rates of inclusion. The percentage increase in graduation rates between the two groups is proportionate to the percentage increase in inclusion rates.

- Dr. Martin Gould

Another use for assessment results is in the evaluation of school performance. Over the last decade many of the efforts focused on improving schools in order to improve student outcomes have included strong assessment components, yet some States and districts have excluded students with disabilities from those assessments. The State of Kentucky has found a way to include them:

Kentucky has demonstrated that it can include students with disabilities in its statewide system of assessments and reports. Of all students with disabilities, 98% participate in the assessments provided to non-disabled students. The remaining students participate in alternative portfolio assessments which allow students to demonstrate their educational competence through real life activities such as using community supports, maintaining friendships with non-disabled peers, demonstrating actual work experiences, and communicating with peers.

- Dr. Martin Gould

In addition, some districts are including students with disabilities so that the effect on students with disabilities resulting from the restructuring of schools can be assessed, just as it is for students without disabilities, and needed changes can be made to improve their success.

Of the many school districts trying to include students who receive special education into statewide assessments and progress reports, a few are notable: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Johnson City, New York; and San Diego, California. These districts are noteworthy because they are developing standards for all students at each grade level. The standards include a clear vision of the types of knowledge, abilities and skills students need when they graduate. This vision provides a clear direction for decisions about curriculum and instruction, professional development, and assessment. Pittsburgh, Johnson City, and San Diego possess a clear focus on learning and a desire to make changes, either in individual teacher approaches or in district policies, to help all students achieve.

- Dr. Martin Gould

The inclusion of students with disabilities in assessment will enable schools to document the success of inclusionary education and to enable students with disabilities to increase their success in the future. In addition, such inclusion will provide a valuable bridge to ensuring the participation of students with disabilities in school reform initiatives such asGoals 2000.


  1. Inclusionary early intervention programs and other integrated supports provided at a young age facilitate the development and inclusion of children with disabilities throughout their school years.
  2. Children with disabilities who begin school with their non-disabled peers are more easily integrated and accepted.
  3. Inclusion can also be successful in the upper grades.
  4. Families of typical children are not reluctant to enroll their children in successful inclusive schools.
  5. Inclusionary education may be introduced at the initial planning stages of a school or at any later date and still be successful.
  6. Schools build on the inclusion of students with disabilities as they assist them in planning their adult lives as workers and participants in integrated communities.
  7. Inclusion may be accomplished one student at a time, one school at a time, or simultaneously at many sites.
  8. Inclusion has been achieved through the efforts of many different organizations and individuals. The impetus for inclusion in particular sites has come from nonprofit organizations, individual parents and educators, State agencies, and the Federal government. Its successful implementation requires the efforts of all of those whose actions and attitudes affect children.
  9. Assessments and reports of student performance are frequently used to monitor and alter the activities of educators and schools, yet students with disabilities are frequently not included in them. This omission suggests that their achievements are not considered to be significant. The improvement of their educational outcomes, frequently achieved by changes in response to assessment, does not have the same priority as it does for other students. Fortunately, some States and districts now include students with disabilities in their assessment and reporting of educational achievement.


The best introduction to inclusion is … a model that works.

- Charlene Green

In inclusionary education models, students from segregated special education programs and regular education programs are brought together in classrooms in typical neighborhood schools. Prior to inclusion, students, staff, and parents in the separate systems are oriented to differing approaches in curriculum, grading, instructional methods, personnel responsibilities, etc. Because the existence of separate systems has been justified as “necessary” to ensure the success of all students, many questions can arise about how the two systems can be blended in such a way that all students will benefit.

Fortunately, there are models that work to learn from. Educators, parents, and staff at these schools have already begun to identify areas requiring change and have found some solutions to meet their needs. While the witnesses who testified at the hearings had different frames of reference for their remarks about inclusionary education, many of their recommendations had common elements.

One common element was a vision of inclusionary education that went beyond the mere physical integration of students in a classroom. Ruth Usilton shared strategies that have been used by many districts to ensure that “all students are welcomed and valued learners in the schools and classes they would attend if not identified as disabled.”

As schools begin to include students who have historically been excluded, planning frequently focuses on changes needed to accommodate individual students. While some components of the planning process must be individualized, many of the changes needed to enable students to succeed are not. “Although many districts begin development of inclusive education one student at a time, it is, in fact, a building-level commitment to all students” (Ruth Usilton).

The content of needed changes and the processes used to arrive at these changes go far beyond the practices of an individual teacher in a single classroom working to accommodate a new student with a disability.

Focus on the Whole School

In considering current concerns about the quality of regular education programs in America, witnesses argued that inclusion must be used as a vehicle for bringing about whole school reform. Dr. Donald Moore offered an approach to school improvement through inclusion, premised on the existence of a “school-level decision making mechanism … through which parents have a major voice in setting school improvement priorities.”

[One approach] is to eliminate the classification and labeling procedure entirely for children with mild disabilities…. Each school would be granted an allocation of funds based on a presumed incidence of mild disabilities. Safeguards would be needed to ensure that these funds reached the school in the form of dollars that are supplementary to a fair allocation of basic funds. The school would then be free to use these funds to help implement their overall school improvement plan, which would have as its overriding goal providing high-quality education to all the school’s children. However, the school would not need to show that they were targeting the funds generated by the presumed-incidence formula to particular children.

- Dr. Donald Moore

While the adoption of many of the changes described below would benefit students with disabilities, they would also result in changes beneficial to the whole school population.

Curricular Changes

Perhaps the most fundamental issue in education for all children is what they learn. Parents of children with disabilities and those without disabilities are rightfully concerned about the curricula used in classrooms. When children with disabilities are educated separately from their non-disabled peers, school systems frequently create two different curricula. Catherine Bushbacher, principal at Peter A. Reinberg School in Chicago, discussed the need to change those practices and to use a different approach to meet student needs:

We had a special ed curriculum and a regular ed curriculum. Our special ed curriculum at times tried to model the regular ed curriculum and put it on a small scale. What we had to do is to say we needed one curriculum and we needed to support that curriculum and modify that curriculum for each child on an individual level, whether the child had an IEP or not. We modified the curriculum according to what each child needs.

Grading Policy Changes

When two previously separated groups of children are placed in a single classroom, working from a single curriculum, questions arise about how students should be graded. Schools have previously used different approaches to grading students in special and regular education classrooms. In an inclusionary school environment an examination of the disparities in judging student performance levels is needed.

Grades were a major problem for us. How do we grade children? We used to believe that a child with a disability shouldn’t be failed; a child with a disability shouldn’t be given a bad grade. We started saying, “Wait…. If we’re including these children and truly expecting them to do certain things, we need to demand of them some things, realizing what is in the IEP.” If a child with a disability at Reinberg chooses not to do his or her homework, like any other child they need to suffer the consequences. The consequence of not doing your work should be having your mother called, if that’s appropriate; maybe earning an “F.” That’s a major change for many of our parents.

The parents were used to good grades, but those grades in many cases were gifts. The parents changed their thinking into saying, “I know my child earned that.” They started developing a sense of pride in what their child could do and started realizing what their child could do and where they could fit in to help. Then we had to educate the parents about what we were doing and every parent bought it.

- Catherine Bushbacher

Instructional Changes

As all students begin to work from the same curriculum, educators must decide how they will assist all students in achieving the goals and objectives embodied in the curriculum. While one of the prior justifications for separate educational systems was the presumed differences in how students with and without disabilities learn (and, therefore, how they need to be taught), research now shows that the best practices for all students are more similar than different.

We know that you cannot take the student who has Down syndrome, tell him to sit in row 5, to open up the book to page 33, to listen to the lecture, to fill out the worksheets, to answer the questions in the textbook. That is going to be a bust. It is questionable whether that kind of education is good for any student.

- Dr. William Henderson

Dr. Henderson, a principal in the Boston Public Schools, explained that techniques which work for students with disabilities are more often used in regular education classrooms than in special education programs and are viewed as best practices by general educators:

Some of the changes in curriculum and instruction that work particularly well in inclusive programs are the following: whole language and literature techniques; hands-on instruction (particularly in math and science); active learning vs. passive (not just sitting back and listening, but getting involved in projects); multi-cultural content and processes (exposing children to a range of diversity, people from different ethnic backgrounds, people from different linguistic backgrounds, people from different ability backgrounds in literature and the role models they see); and also in our sensitivity as to how we approach our learners. There needs to be much more thematic or integrated curriculum where we are not taking 7, 8, 9, or 10 different subject areas, but we are looking at a subject and we are trying to look at it much more holistically, with much more in-depth instruction and a lot more cooperative learning.

There are aspects found in some special education programs that are proving beneficial to regular education students. One of those is the special education practice of providing students with learning opportunities in the community.

For over a decade now, those of us who are involved in the preparation of professionals to work with students with moderate and severe intellectual and multiple disabilities and autism have sought to provide our teacher trainees an understanding of the importance of instruction in natural environments, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and competitive employment businesses and agencies…. Because of the increased competence and understanding some of us observed in children with the most significant challenges who had received instruction in natural environments, we recommended that not only should children who have disabilities receive instruction within the community, but so, too, should children who are not labeled.

In the DeKalb schools, some general and special educators collaborated in providing all children in particular classrooms with instruction in natural environments. Parents with children not labeled reported that the time spent learning in the community with children with disabilities were the school days their children favored most. Parents instinctively understood how important that was to the education of their children.

- Dr. Sharon Freagon

All students can benefit from changes in the instructional methods occasioned by the implementation of inclusionary education.

Creative Use of Resources and Personnel

Whatever decisions are made about curriculum and instructional strategies, new ways of deploying existing resources and personnel are needed to meet the varied needs of children in the classroom. The adoption of inclusionary education may be seen as an opportunity to review the current use of all resources. Ruth Usilton suggested consolidating all of the resources available in the building and looking at how they can be used most effectively for all students.

Nowhere is this approach more evident than in the area of personnel. When neighborhood schools include children who have previously been excluded, some States provide these schools with resources that previously were dedicated to segregated settings. These additional resources may be used to lower the adult-student ratio in the neighborhood school.

We have taken the monies from the private placements that we’ve pulled back and we have used that for staffing. The $80,000 we saved for transportation out-of-district, we have used that.

- Dr. William Henderson

An expanded discussion of the use of financial resources appears in the chapter entitled, Financing Inclusive Education: Barriers and Opportunities.

While the addition of previously unavailable resources to increase student-staff ratios is an appropriate policy decision, some schools have found other ways to redeploy resources. Cooperative teaching is one approach taken at the Reinberg School in Chicago:

We have two teachers who constantly teach for the full day in the same room. We have been able to achieve that through opening up cross-categorical programs, so the range of disabilities is in most of the rooms, and letting the teachers work many things out.

- Catherine Bushbacher

Dr. Barbara LeRoy echoed this finding.

By establishing classrooms in which a regular education teacher and a special education teacher share equally the planning, instruction, and evaluation of students, we have found that a diverse group of students can be accommodated.

In addition to the instruction provided by the classroom teachers, some students with disabilities also receive assistance from other professionals. Traditionally, these professionals have removed students from their classrooms to meet with them. Several witnesses specifically warned against the use of “pull-out” programs as a way to educate children with disabilities who are otherwise included in regular education programs. One described the way the programs operate and the problems they may create:

We start at a very young age pulling kids out from the general education curriculum for repeated-type practice things which they are very bored with in the first place. Then what happens is they keep getting further and further behind because they are not hearing the same things that the kids in general ed are hearing, so they have no alternative but to come up short on all of those tests.

- Patricia McGill Smith

Dr. Donald Moore used the following example to call for a clear definition of inclusion that would protect children with disabilities from such programs:

We know that pull-out programs in Federal Chapter 1 [projects] have marginal effects, unless they are aggressive, time-limited efforts to give students specific skills for returning to the mainstream. Thus, it is critical that inclusion advocates should not simply move children labeled as having mild to moderate learning problems from self-contained classrooms to part-time resource rooms and call this inclusion. [Such students should be] educated entirely in the regular classroom, with extra staff available to assist teachers, mildly disabled children, and other children with learning problems in the regular classroom setting. Any pull-out program for such children must be aimed at returning the child to the mainstream within a designated period or must be justified based on particular needs of that child that are sufficient to overcome the presumption of full-time attendance in the regular classroom.

Some educators have been successful in “moving both consultative and direct related services into the regular education classroom” (Ruth Usilton). The chapter, Supports for Inclusion, provides several examples of how related service providers can be used to support student success in regular classroom activities.

The introduction of related services personnel into the regular education classroom has additional benefits that result from the teacher’s ability to observe the specialist:

Our therapists, our speech pathologist, and our occupational therapist work in the classroom. One of our teachers commented that it was one of the most marvelous things that could occur because the mystery of what a therapist does has been solved in many ways. She now knows how to get the child to say the letter, the sound of “s,” and recognize the letter “s.” Because she is seeing a specialist do it, she now is beginning to feel confident in working with the child in the classroom. They can then talk about it later when someone can look at the speech pathologist and say, “You worked with that child. How can I work with this child?” And they begin to build their communication.

- Catherine Bushbacher

As important as the decisions are about curriculum, instructional strategies, and use of resources, the key to the success of inclusionary education is the process for making those decisions, according to many witnesses.

Collaborative Planning

The most commonly mentioned requirement for successful inclusion is collaborative planning. Although much is already known about changes needed to make inclusionary education successful, much is still being discovered. Collaborative planning teams are making the greatest gains.

Teams must include regular education teachers and parents as well as administrators, special education teachers, and related services professionals. The most creative strategies to support students with disabilities in regular classes and other natural settings have been developed by teams of professionals and parents working in concert to solve problems and craft effective supports.

- Ruth Usilton

The actual steps in planning for individual students is described in the chapter, Supports for Inclusion.

Changes in Relationships

In order for collaborative planning to be successful, educators, school support staff, and parents, who may never have worked together in the past, need to develop new relationships. Some schools have recognized the need to reach out to all of the adults with whom students interact.

No longer can we talk about special education teachers or professionals who work with “those students over there” and regular education teachers who work with “these students over here.” People need to collaborate to pull their expertise together to serve all students. And it’s not just the teachers. The principal, the custodian, the secretary, the lunch monitors all have to demonstrate a commitment to having students learn and succeed together.

I remember the first year I was at this school. The biggest problem we had was in the cafeteria because when the teachers were on break and we went down there, the lunch monitors told me, “We don’t have to serve the handicapped.” And they were right. In the forty years this woman had worked in the Boston Public Schools, she had never had to serve “the handicapped” because they always came with an aide or they always came with a teacher. They were always “taken care of.” That relationship means a change for the entire school staff.

- Dr. William Henderson

Inclusion also requires changes in the attitudes of staff toward parents. Dr. Barbara LeRoy argues that the family is the key to inclusionary planning:

In inclusive education, the family is central to the entire process, as the team recognizes and affirms that the family is the one entity that has a sustained relationship with and knowledge of the student and his/her needs.

Because of that recognition, parents have a different role in the IEP meeting:

We’ve looked at our parents differently from a staff point of view, too. We include them much more in our planning simply because they really are part of the team. We’ve had to look at ourselves as educators and say, “Yes, we do have the training, but that’s the parent.” That parent knows that child better than anyone else could. That is the person that has to assist us in setting our goals. So many times at an IEP conference or prior to one, we’ll say to a parent, “What do you want this year? If you were to list one thing you want to accomplish more than anything else, what would it be? How can we help you do that?” So, we’ve included them much more as being almost the decision maker in many cases and we become the facilitator for their goals.

- Catherine Bushbacher

Training and Staff Development

Training and staff development activities need to occur in order to change attitudes and to foster new skills so that inclusionary education can succeed. Changes in long-standing relationships require training and staff development activities. Ruth Usilton reported that “a great deal of the technical assistance and training provided through our project is focused on this single issue.” In fact, most of the specific strategies described above require changes in the skills and attitudes of staff and parents. Those changes generally occur through training. Paul Ash, of the Indiana Department of Education, described training as one of the two factors that have led to success in Indiana:

Training was provided for all stakeholders and service providers to enable them to have the tools to implement a different way of delivering services and ensuring that services and resources follow a child.

Training has been found to make the difference in some cases in teachers’ attitudes and confidence about including children with disabilities in their classrooms:

We have found in working with regular education teachers that they are very willing to implement inclusive education and to support students with diverse needs in their classrooms, if they have had the opportunity to be adequately prepared. In many instances, teachers need to learn about specialized equipment and student positioning. For example, in transitioning a student with severe, multiple disabilities to a third grade classroom, the teaching staff needed just such an inservice training. The occupational therapist and physical therapist trained the staff and provided a set of photographs to accompany the student which highlighted how Nate should look when he was properly positioned on and in his various pieces of equipment. That set of photos was most beneficial to the regular education staff in the early days of the school year, as they became comfortable with their new responsibilities and learned how to interpret Nate’s nonverbal communications to them.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Training is discussed at greater length in the chapter, Professional and Consumer Training.


Essential to all of the activities that may result in change–team-building, planning, creating, and training–is the time to do it. Successful inclusionary schools build in time for their teams.

Where teams are functioning effectively, decision-making and problem-solving will also be most effective. Doing this the right way requires that team members have time to develop a team relationship as well as time to get together on some regular basis to problem solve.

- Ruth Usilton

Successful programs are also making time for teachers to plan together:

Part of what makes it work is the planning time that we have set [for the staff] to work together. By cooperatively teaching, they have the same preparation times, so they can sit down for several hours a week and plan and modify and work together and share ideas and whatever it takes.

- Catherine Bushbacher

One of the challenges to changing current educational practices is that of creating adequate blocks of time for educators, parents, related services personnel, and other stakeholders to get to know each other and to work together.

Peer Preparation

One tool that has been used in particular instances to further the social integration of some students with disabilities is the preparation of their non-disabled peers prior to their arrival. Witnesses testified that children are generally accepting of each other, and that peer preparation is needed only in certain circumstances. Dr. LeRoy described one set of circumstances when a student with a disability would benefit from having an adult prepare his peers for his inclusion:

We have found that peers do not generally need any preparation, nor do we believe that this is a good idea. However, in some instances, there is a good reason to provide some training and education to the peers in the classroom. In all instances we allow this decision of peer preparation to be directed by the wishes and concerns of the family.

To illustrate this I will talk a bit about Chris. Chris is a student with severe cognitive, physical, and behavioral disabilities. He is nonverbal. As he was entering the 5th grade classroom, he did not have any alternative means of communication. Chris has uncontrolled seizures and could have up to 20 seizures during the course of one school day. It was with regard to Chris’ seizure condition that his mother wanted to share some information with the typical students in his classroom. She visited the classroom, shared a videotape on epilepsy, shared information about Chris and particularly how his behavior communicates his needs and wishes to her, and answered the students’ questions in regard to epilepsy. Of particular importance to Chris’ mother was that the students understood that they could not cause Chris to have a seizure and that he was not in pain when one occurred. In other words, she did not want Chris’ seizures to serve as a barrier to student interactions.

Dr. LeRoy went on to share the most effective strategy for peer acceptance:

Finally, with regard to peers and preparation, we have found that the best peer support for students with disabilities is to ensure that they begin school on the same day and at the same time as the typical students in the classroom. To do anything else communicates nonverbally the message that this student is different and not like his/her peers.

In addition, preparation and on-going support might be provided through the participation of adults with disabilities from the community (for example, through Centers for Independent Living) who might serve as role models.

Opportunities to Celebrate Accomplishments

Finally, none of these changes comes without effort and commitment. The challenge of change needs to be acknowledged:

When people are experiencing difficulties in developing inclusive education, they [need to be] able to sort out the difference between, “I am feeling down in the dumps because inclusive education is too difficult,” or, “I am feeling down in the dumps because I am going through a change process.” One of the ways to help people get through that is to help them sit back and realize what they have accomplished, celebrate their accomplishments, and develop a sense of community around their goals and their visions.

- Ruth Usilton

In addition, steps need to be taken in order to ensure the long-term acceptance of the changes necessary for the successful implementation of inclusion. Clearly, achievements in creating and maintaining educational environments in which all students are welcomed and valued need to be recognized and rewarded:

If we are looking at the move to inclusive education as leading us into a future where diversity is valued, and only systems, not students, fail, then we must take some time to celebrate.

- Ruth Usilton


  1. Inclusionary education can lead to a focus on school-wide changes to benefit all students.
  2. Inclusionary schools move toward a unified curriculum and make individual modifications for all children who need them.
  3. Inclusionary education can provide the impetus to blend the best experiential, interactive instructional strategies currently used in regular and special education to benefit both students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.
  4. Inclusionary education provides an opportunity for the redeployment of personnel in schools to improve the educational experiences of all children in the classroom.
  5. Changes necessary to implement inclusionary education will be facilitated through collaborative planning by all of the stakeholders in a child’s education.
  6. Relationships among educators, school support staff, related service personnel, and parents have to change in order for them to collaborate in planning for children with disabilities.
  7. Staff and parents will need training and support to make changes in their attitudes and skills.
  8. For inclusionary education to succeed, time should be allocated for training, team-building, and planning.
  9. Peer preparation is rarely needed in order to ensure the successful inclusion of a student with disabilities. Instead, students with disabilities should be treated as much the same as other students as possible, such as beginning school on the same day as others do.
  10. Accomplishments should be celebrated in order to reinforce successful inclusionary practices.


Key to the implementation of inclusive education is the underlying philosophy that students remain in the regular education setting while supports move in and out of that setting as dictated by the needs of the student. In essence, special education becomes a support service, not a program.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Central to the successful placement of students with disabilities in regular education classrooms is the provision of appropriate supports. The law itself allows the “removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment … only when … education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” (14) These aids and services may be different for every student. The issues related to providing these aids and services will be varied. Supports may include assistive technology, peer preparation, personal assistance services, and social support. Successful inclusion begins, though, with the individualized planning process for each child.

Individual Plans

One of the strategies for making inclusion work is the use of collaborative teams that plan each child’s educational program. “The crux of the IEP meeting must be to determine what needs to be done to support the student in the regular ed environment” (Rene Leininger). Through a careful examination of the classroom curriculum, the team plans adaptations to the curriculum and the provision of supports and other accommodations (such as an accessible school environment) that are needed to ensure the student’s success. Ruth Usilton, director of Project Choices in Illinois, described the sequence of inquiries to be used in planning the child’s educational activities:

In each instance, the first question should always be, “Can the student do the same activity with the same materials as all other students?” If this is not the case, there are several examples of the sequence of steps or questions that a team might address in identifying the least obtrusive adaptations and supports for the student: “Can the student do an easier [task] within the same activity?” For example, doing single digit adding instead of double digit, or writing fewer words for the spelling test. If this is not an effective adaptation, the team should ask, “Can the student do the same activity with adapted materials and expectations?” For example, a student might use a calculator to add, or match words to pictures rather than spell, or have identified one or two concepts for which he or she will be responsible on the test instead of twelve. If this level of participation is not successful, the team asks, “Can the student do a different task or activity that is similar with adaptations in materials and/or expectations?” For example, spelling functional words from the environment. Or using a highlighter to trace a bus route rather than identifying distances on a map. If this is not successful, the final question asked is, “Can the student do a different task related to a different theme elsewhere in the room, but that is meeting a goal on the student’s IEP?”

There has been great progress in creative problem solving to minimize the times of day that any student, regardless of the challenging nature of his/her disability, is engaging in learning that is separate from all other students. In fact, I would state that if “different activity” has no point of convergence with the schedule of activities of the other students in the classroom, the team that is strategizing for that student should look again for an accommodation that allows the student to demonstrate competence to his or her peers, such as handing out the papers or functioning as the time-keeper within a cooperative learning group. Finally, if there is no parallel or convergence activity that can be a meaningful part of the student’s educational day, the final question is, “Can the student do a functional activity as part of the school or in the community?”

Identification of the curricular adaptations needed is only one step in the planning process. With a range of children in need of diverse supports in a classroom, the next challenge is the management of services and personnel in a way that does not disrupt the classroom activities, but instead contributes to students’ successful participation in them. A comprehensive approach to planning ensures that supports will be in place when needed.

Individual support is not only discussed and identified for each part of the day, but a schedule is written for when those supports will flow in and out of the classroom. Just as we are developing a daily schedule for the student, we also identify what are the inservice training needs, the room adaptations, and the peer preparation supports for the students. These needs are listed separately, and each need is analyzed to determine who should participate, what activities should occur, and who is responsible for ensuring that those needs are addressed. Often the activities and timeline are written into the IEP to ensure that those things occur prior to implementation of the program.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Instead of determining student needs in isolation and scheduling sessions with specialists to address those needs outside of the context of the classroom and its activities, specialists enter the classroom to assist students in those classroom activities which require the skills the specialists teach:

Individual support is provided to students as dictated by the activities of the classroom. For example, the occupational therapist may support a student in art or home economics class; the speech therapist may support a student in language arts or social studies; and the physical therapist may support a student in physical education class.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Careful scheduling becomes critical to the delivery of services:

You have to have the occupational therapist coming into the classroom, not when there is a spelling test, but when children are doing some kind of art or reading activity. The speech therapist needs to come and work with the classroom when it is appropriate for some talking to happen. This is a scheduling issue which has to happen up front, before it has become a problem.

- Dr. William Henderson

Assistive Technology

Developments in technology and its application to meeting the needs of students with disabilities have enabled some students with disabilities to be more successful in school and in life than ever before.

We have found that assistive technology ensures that the student with disabilities can benefit from meaningful participation in activities. Students are utilizing computers to do assignments, touch screens to complete worksheets, and communication devices to share their thoughts and feelings.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

That success, however, is dependent on its availability in regular education classrooms, and, unfortunately, districts are sometimes reluctant to move assistive technology from segregated special education classrooms and schools.

One of the first issues related to assistive technology is the identification and/or development of equipment to meet the needs of individual students. One parent discussed the problems.

It’s difficult to find it. It’s not coordinated, at least in my State. I think our Department of Rehab Services has a grant and that’s its part of IDEA. School systems have some money, but, again, it’s piecemeal here and piecemeal there…. [If] one agency could take over coordination of all the monies that are coming in for assistive technology, all the vendors that provide it, parents could maybe have access to it and school systems, also.

- Linda Effner

In addition to coordinating information about the available options in new equipment, there is also a need to track used equipment.

There is a need for a mechanism to recycle equipment that is no longer in use as children outgrow that particular piece of equipment or no longer need it. Perhaps there could be a district or a Statewide database that could help professionals keep track of what equipment is available and match it with a student who has those particular needs.

- Mary Beth Gahan

A second issue is its cost, as one parent pointed out:

[My] daughter … just received a new wheelchair that cost $19,200, which we call her “Apollo” because it cost more than the sticker price on our car.

- Linda Effner

Once assistive technology has been identified or developed and obtained, its use in the classroom needs to be thoughtfully planned:

Equipment, as with other supports, should follow the student into the regular classroom. Very intentionally, the team focuses on the physical environment of the classroom to ensure that students who need adaptive equipment are not merely inside the classroom door, but are comfortably within the room and the activities of the classroom. We have found that assistive tech ensures that the student with disabilities can benefit from meaningful participation in activities.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Assistive technology can enable students to develop and demonstrate skills that would have otherwise been impossible. The student’s progress, though, is dependent on that of the technology available.

When Joe enrolled in one of Chicago’s Options for Knowledge programs, he was the first little person with a severe disability to attend that school. Joseph had significant speech articulation difficulties due to cerebral palsy. He happened to be particularly gifted in the area of language. The school he attended was a language academy where the children in that school studied foreign languages. The acquisition of an augmentative communication system that spoke Spanish was a tremendous benefit to Joseph in participating in class activities. As Joseph’s academics progress, it is essential that the technology advances with him. To meet his changing needs, he will need a communications system that will be able to expand as his vocabulary increases and his knowledge grows.

- Mary Beth Gahan

Personal Assistance Service Providers and Paraprofessionals

When students with disabilities are placed in regular education classrooms, additional personnel are sometimes assigned to the classroom. They may have a variety of duties, ranging from supporting students with assistive technology to meeting health care needs. Dr. Barbara LeRoy spoke clearly about the need to have such personnel in the classroom in some situations:

For many students with physical needs, a health care paraprofessional is an important individual support that should be provided without question. It is not the intention of inclusive education that regular education teachers assume non-instructional responsibility for their students.

Dr. LeRoy warned, though, that if improperly used, such paraprofessionals can actually impede the inclusion of students with disabilities. She cautioned against the assignment of instructional paraprofessionals to particular students and the assumption that individual students will need their own paraprofessionals to work with them.

The paraprofessional should be assigned to the classroom and not to the student. Assigning the paraprofessional to the student has the potential to foster dependencies, to isolate the student from peer interactions, and to lessen the support for school restructuring. While the paraprofessional may have initial responsibilities indirectly supporting the student with disabilities, it is important that the team identify criteria for when and how that direct support can be reduced. It is extremely dangerous to equate inclusive education with unconditional paraprofessional support. Just to reiterate: financially, it will limit access for all students with disabilities to regular classrooms; socially, it will discourage peer friendships; and educationally, it will minimize regular education’s ownership for the students’ outcomes.

Certain personnel, such as interpreters, may need to be with students on a continuous basis. However, even in these situations personnel should avoid becoming an unintentional barrier to student-to-student interaction.

Social Support

One of the concerns expressed by opponents of inclusionary education is the fear of the possible social isolation of children with disabilities in regular education classrooms.

We need to make sure that students are included in every aspect of student life in the most natural setting possible. Numerous stories have been told to me that school districts would not permit non-disabled peers to assist disabled students on an elevator, in going to class, by carrying books, and so forth, because of the fear that someone might get hurt, or the insurance prevents the school from allowing this to happen. They would instead assign an adult to walk to class with the students, to assist them on the elevator or with their books. This only separates the student with disabilities from their non-disabled peers.

- Max Starkloff

However, merely removing barriers between students with disabilities and their peers may not be enough. Careful planning is often required to ensure full integration:

A focus on instructional and environmental support without an emphasis on social support may put the student at risk of mere physical integration without ever realizing inclusion in the life and activities of the classroom and community. In Michigan, a collaborative team spends an equal amount of energy addressing the social needs of the student. As with curriculum and instructional support, social support strategies focus on best practices for all students before seeking more intense individualized methods.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

A variety of strategies are used to ensure social integration in school, including “cooperative base groups” and student welcoming committees.

A cooperative base group is a heterogeneous mix of students (4-5 students per group) who support each other for a minimum of one year and a maximum of four years. The group, which is facilitated by an adult (teacher or staff), focuses on academic and social problem solving activities…. These cooperative base groups are ideal vehicles for supporting students with diverse needs within the culture of the school and the classroom. They provide individualized assistance to the student with disabilities, without singling out that student based on his/her educational label. In addition, the groups help typical students to understand that the students with disabilities have similar interests and issues and that they are more like typical students than they are different.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Some schools assign students peers to help orient the new students to the school. In others, peers are invited to participate in the planning process:

For example, in planning for Jamie to come to a fourth grade classroom, her peer sponsors were helpful in identifying age-appropriate clothing, the “in” styles of lunch boxes, and the most useful types of backpacks for the program.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

While social support activities within the school are important for the in-school life of the student with disabilities, they do not always carry over into the student’s integration into the larger community. The family’s active participation is needed.

[Our] researchers found that good social networking activities within the school setting did not readily translate into good social networks in the community. We have found that intentional planning and activities are needed to ensure that community peer integration occurs. Central to this process is the family. The family has taken the initiative in creating an environment that encourages friendship building.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Some specific examples were offered:

Marcie’s mother enrolled Marcie in Girl Scouts and offered her home for the meetings. In that way the other girls and mothers learned about how Marcie’s family interacts with her and became comfortable with her equipment and unique needs. In Tom’s family, Tom’s parents offered to host the sleep-overs, providing video games which were adaptive for Tom, good snacks, and opportunities for modeling appropriate ways of interacting.

- Dr. Barbara LeRoy

Managing Support Services

While much of the discussion about support services focuses on them as a means for students with disabilities to achieve an appropriate education in a regular education classroom, Mary Beth Gahan argued that they were just as important for other reasons. She explained that the provision of support services and assistive technology in school is necessary so that students can learn to manage them, a prerequisite for achieving their independence.

Ms. Gahan contended that independence for people with disabilities is not always understood and gave some examples to make her point.

Independence is not synonymous with self-sufficiency, but rather it is the ability to control one’s own life by making responsible choices from acceptable options.

All of us use technology everyday: garage door openers, microwaves, all sorts of things. We could walk to the grocery store–most of us live within a few blocks away–but what do we do? We jump into our cars and we drive. We consider ourselves self-sufficient. However, a person with a disability who may choose to utilize a motorized wheelchair to conserve energy or to maximize safety might not be considered brave or courageous. If I lived in a neighborhood where the property values were really high and I had someone come in to clean my house, I would be considered affluent. But because I have a disability and someone comes in to do house cleaning for me, some view me as dependent.

Once the management of support services is perceived as a skill necessary for achieving independence, then the importance of providing opportunities for children to learn how to manage them is evident:

Independence is not an event; it’s a process. Children develop and grow over time. They need age-appropriate experiences and activities that will help them learn to make decisions and manage their own affairs.

- Mary Beth Gahan

Once again, the participation of adults with disabilities from the community in this effort might prove effective in providing students with disabilities with successful examples of independent living.


  1. Successful implementation of inclusionary education requires individual planning for students with disabilities to determine: 

    a. needed adaptations of curriculum,

    b. the provision of supports and other accommodations, and 

    c. the careful scheduling of the above in order to enhance the educational program for all students.

  2. Inclusionary education requires that assistive technology be identified or developed for those students who need it and thoughtfully introduced into the classroom.
  3. Students generally do not need to receive special information or instruction about how to relate to students with disabilities, but it may be helpful in those instances where students might keep from making friends with a new student for fear of hurting him or her.
  4. While paraprofessionals and personal assistance services providers must be provided in some instances to facilitate the inclusion of a student with a disability in a regular education classroom, their role in the classroom should be carefully planned so as not to encourage dependency or segregate the student with a disability. Furthermore, they should not be assigned to the individual student, but instead to the classroom or the teacher.
  5. The inclusion of students with disabilities in regular education classrooms does not always carry over into the community. Families need to be involved in planning to achieve the full social integration of their children with disabilities.
  6. In addition to being a means to achieving an appropriate education, support services must be provided to students so they can learn to manage them, an important step toward achieving independence.

1 20 U.S.C. 1401.

2 The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101.

3 20 U.S.C. 1401

4 The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The provisions relating to the education of children “to the maximum extent appropriate” with non-disabled students have remained the same.

5 SRI International (1992). The Transition Experiences of Young People with Disabilities: Implications for Policy and Programs. (Contract No. 300-87-0054). Washington, DC: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.

6 National Council on Disability (1993). Serving the Nation’s Students with Disabilities: Progress and Prospects.Washington, DC: Author. See pp. 74, 78-79.

7 Lou Harris and Associates, Inc. (1994). National Organization on Disability/Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities. New York: Author.

8 IDEA, the legislation governing special education, requires that children be placed in integrated classrooms “to the maximum extent appropriate.” In the implementing regulations, the Department of Education rephrased the requirement, calling for the placement of students with disabilities “in the least restrictive environment.”

9 National Council on Disability (1993). Serving the Nation’s Students with Disabilities: Progress and Prospects. Washington, DC: Author.

10 In this report, the terms “mainstreaming,” “integration,” and “inclusion” are used interchangeably to mean that the primary placement of students with disabilities is in the regular classroom, although some instruction may also be provided in other parts of the school building based on student needs. Supports and performance expectations vary based upon the students’ individualized needs and goals. Students may be engaged in the same activity with or without modifications, or may be engaged in parallel activities (i.e., same content area but different activity).

11 Richardson, N., Rogers, J., and Verre, J. (1994). A System Apart: A Study of the Implementation of the Least Restrictive Environment Provisions of IDEA in Massachusetts and Illinois. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.

12 20 U.S.C. 1412(5)(B).

13 34 CFR 300.550(b)(2).

14 20 U.S.C. 1412(5)(B).

An official website of the National Council on Disability