Guest Blogger

Outreach to Students with Disabilities in Mainstream Classrooms

People with disabilities can celebrate two legislative landmarks this year. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 25th anniversary on July 26. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), signed into law in 1975, is now 40 years old.

IDEA, which guaranteed children with disabilities the right to be educated in the “least restrictive environment”, has been especially important for students in K – 12 schools. However, in many cases it seems that successful implementation of these laws is still in its infancy. One method of providing the “free appropriate public education” mandated by IDEA has been inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream or general education classrooms. Educational support is provided by an aide in the classroom or scheduled visits to a resource room.

Several recent children’s books describe the experiences of fictional young people with disabilities in inclusive classrooms.

  • El Deafo by Cece Bell is the story of a girl with a hearing impairment who uses an FM amplification system in the classroom.
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    Books with students in mainstream classrooms (Photo by Kate Todd)

    Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt describes how Ally, who has undiagnosed dyslexia, learns of her disability and develops strategies for reading successfully.

  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is the story of Melodie, a girl with cerebral palsy who is supported by computerized text-to-speech equipment and a student teacher.
  • Rain Reign by Ann Martin is a narrative about Rose, diagnosed with autism, who has an aide working with her at school.
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio tells the story of Augie, who has mandibulofacial dysostosis and begins attending middle school after years of home schooling.

Research has provided insights into the attitudes of adults and students toward inclusive classrooms. Although educational experts (faculty, consultants and doctoral students who published articles about inclusion) believe “inclusion students should be placed in general education settings surrounded by general education students of approximately the same age,” teachers and parents expressed reservations about practical implications such as behavioral disruptions or lack of time for collaboration. (Kimbrough, R., & Mellen, K. (2012). Perceptions of inclusion of students with disabilities in the middle school. http://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet.aspx?ArtMID=888&ArticleID=308 )

On the other hand, studies using middle school students, both with and without disabilities, found “Young people today consider it right and natural for students with learning and behavioral difficulties to be in their classes.” (Miller, M. (2008). What do students think about inclusion? Phi Delta Kappan, 89, 391.) It is interesting that the interviewers doing this research were often surprised when some students indicated that they, themselves, received special education support.   This demonstrates that students with disabilities may not always be obvious to the casual observer.

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Inclusion class at the library (Creative Commons license, adapted by Kate Todd, from https://openclipart.org/detail/639/point-to-board)

Outreach to students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms is important for librarians. It is the first step to making sure that all students have a positive library experience. If inclusion is working effectively, it may be impossible to know which students have special needs. However, preparing simple accommodations or setting up assistive technology can make library visits more successful. Alerting library staff to situations that may be distressing—such as visual or communication anomalies—will avoid embarrassing responses.

Here are some suggestions for working with schools that can help assure that students with disabilities in inclusive classes feel welcome in the library:

  1. When collecting information for class visits, ask a question such as, “Are there special needs students in your class?” or “Are there any students that need accommodations when visiting the library?”
  2. Since students, both with or without disabilities, are easily embarrassed when singled out from their peers, remind staff to treat all students equally in the library.
  3. Do book talks of titles that contain characters with disabilities, such as Out of My Mind, Wonder or Rain Reign. Incorporating these books into presentations sends a signal to students, parents and teachers that inclusive classrooms are typical and children with disabilities are welcome at the library.
  4. There are a variety of organizations that serve people with disabilities. Some focus on specific diagnoses while others are more general. Identify these organizations in your community and provide a link to their resources on the library web page.
  5. Tweet about workshops or programs that are sponsored by the organizations in your community. This not only spreads the word about important events, but lets the organizations know you consider their work important.
  6. When possible, attend some of these events yourself so you can begin building personal relationships with others in your community that are also interested in services to people with disabilities.
  7. Design workshops for teachers and parents that highlight advantages of library use for children with disabilities. A good topic outline can be found in the parent blog by Karen Wang, “10 Ways Your Child With Special Needs Can Benefit From a Trip To The Library” (http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2014/10/28/10-ways-your-child-with-special-needs-can-benefit-from-a-trip-to-the-library/ ).

Inclusive classes may mean that children with disabilities are hidden in plain sight. It might require additional inquiries and awareness to identify these children and make sure their needs are met when they visit the library.

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Photo courtesy guest blogger
Photo by Kate Todd

Our guest blogger is Kate Todd, a retired librarian who worked at The New York Public Library and Manhattanville College. She especially wants to thank Jordan Boaz, who taught the RUSA online course, “Reaching every patron: Creating and presenting inclusive outreach to patrons of all abilities.” This blog began an assignment for her course.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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