Including Students with Disabilities: A Missing Link

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Author: Tim LaCourt, M.Ed.

In my career as a special education teacher, curriculum supervisor, and then principal, Inclusion was a priority focus; however, there always seemed to be a missing link in the process of including students with disabilities—especially more severe conditions—into the general population of students.

I had an early spring meeting with a fellow principal whose elementary campus was going to be welcoming back several students with disabilities who had previously been served in a centralized program.  The principal was concerned about how these students would be received.  We talked about a few ideas, one of which was to utilize part of the traditional spring Field Day to do some activities.  We agreed to meet again. 

One of my duties at the time—one I very much enjoyed–was to supervise the Adapted Physical Education Teachers in the school district (there were 7 total).  I approached them with the idea of doing something with the school Field Day.  They brainstormed great ideas, with the overall theme being, “How does it feel to walk in the shoes of someone with a disability?”

When the principal and I met again, we planned a Field Day (a day of traditional track and field events and celebrations) that would be split in half, with the afternoon being traditional events; the morning, however, was meant for students to experience various disabilities, in fun ways:

  • Students line up to bat softball, but each student is blindfolded and has to hit a “beeping ball” that would be used for a student with a visual impairment.  Pitcher was one of the APE teachers. (Note: cheap bandanas come in bags and can be washed and reused.)
  • Borrow various wheelchairs and crutches from neighboring schools and have students go through a series of activities such as getting quickly from one point to another and then getting a drink from the fountain (without being able to use their legs to get up close).
  • Play musical chairs with a modern popular song; however, every other student in the game must wear earplugs. Play the game as usual and watch the reactions.  Have students switch places.  (Note: cheap disposable earplugs are available from companies specializing in industrial safety online.)
  • A game of 4-Square is easily drawn on the playground; students use a ball that has a bell inside; students are blindfolded to play.
  • A vision specialist might be able to obtain goggles that simulate various types of blindness.  Students can be supervised trying them on and doing a couple of quick activities like writing their names or tying their shoe.  Students should not wear these goggles for more than short periods (dizziness and nausea).
  •  Find activities like Mirror Writing to simulate a learning disability.     

After activities, take the time to debrief.  How do students feel?  What did the activities make them think about?  Perhaps, a more formal wrap up could occur in the classrooms on a subsequent day with a simple paragraph writing/illustration to summarize the experience.

The missing link, for me, had been found.  Allowing students without disabilities the opportunity to experience what a disability might feel like provides a school-wide conversation about acceptance of differences.

Back to the school’s principal:  She basically felt great about the day although she said a parent called to complain.  The parent felt the field day activities “made fun of” students with disabilities.  To some people, there is still a fear of disability, mostly because of lack of contact or relationship.  We agreed that one complaint, compared to all the great feedback and observation of fun and learning, was worth ignoring.

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