An inclusive education for students with disabilities typically does not just happen. For students to successfully learn in general education classrooms, adequate funding has to be in place to hire support specialists and secure resources for teachers and students. Inclusive attitudes have to be held by school administrators, teachers, staff, and parents. Learning environments also must be physically accessible to students using wheelchairs, walkers, and assistive technology devices. Curriculum needs to be modified and adapted to meet the needs, and limitations, of a diverse group of children. Finally, open and ongoing communication must exist among all involved in educating students with disabilities.
Barriers Associated with Inclusion in Education
Funding is a major constraint to the practice of inclusion. Teaching students with disabilities in general education classrooms takes specialists and additional staff to support students’ needs. Coordinating services and offering individual supports to children requires additional money that many school districts do not have, particularly in a tight economy. Inadequate funding can hinder ongoing professional development that keeps both specialists and classroom teachers updated on the best practices of inclusion.
Some of the greatest barriers associated with inclusion in education are negative attitudes. As with society in general, these attitudes and stereotypes are often caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding. The attitudes and abilities of general education teachers and paraeducators in particular can be major limitations in inclusive education. Training teachers and paraeducators to understand and work with children with disabilities is often inadequate, or it may be fragmented and uncoordinated. If educators have negative attitudes toward students with special needs or have low expectations of them, children will unlikely receive a satisfactory, inclusive education.
Obviously, a student with a disability cannot learn in an inclusive classroom if he cannot enter the room, let alone the school building. Some schools are still inaccessible to students in wheelchairs or to those other mobility aides and need elevators, ramps, paved pathways and lifts to get in and around buildings. Accessibility can go beyond passageways, stairs, and ramps to recreational areas, paved pathways, and door handles. A student with cerebral palsy, for instance, may not have the ability to grasp and turn a traditional doorknob. Classrooms must be able to accommodate a student’s assistive technology devices, as well as other furniture to meet individual needs.
Just as the environment must be accessible to students with disabilities, the curriculum must facilitate inclusive education, too. General educators must be willing to work with inclusion specialists to make modifications and accommodations in both teaching methods and classroom and homework assignments. Teachers should be flexible in how students learn and demonstrate knowledge and understanding. Written work, for example, should be limited if a student cannot write and can accomplish the same or similar learning objective through a different method.
One of the final barriers associated with inclusion education is a lack of communication among administrators, teachers, specialists, staff, parents, and students. Open communication and coordinated planning between general education teachers and special education staff are essential for inclusion to work. Time is needed for teachers and specialists to meet and create well-constructed plans to identify and implement modifications the, accommodations, and specific goals for individual students. Collaboration must also exist among teachers, staff, and parents to meet a student’s needs and facilitate learning at home.
These are just five factors that can affect students with disabilities in a general education classroom. Only a deep understanding of these factors, and other issues that hinder inclusion, and the elimination of them will make true inclusion a reality for all children to learn together.