Disability studies (DS) is a transdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry whose members seek to understand disability and disablement as cultural phenomena. Scholars who adopt disability studies in education (DSE) perspectives aim to understand how disability is conceptually configured in the research and practice that shape learning, education, and schooling. The DSE field strives to discern and theorize medical and social models of disability in order to promote critical examination of the cultural conditions in which educational practices are performed. The commitments and understandings that arise within DSE lead proponents to conceptualize inclusive education reform as a radical project, and call for the development of policy, teaching, and teacher education practices that acknowledge and resist ableism.
Susan Baglieri and Jessica Bacon
April B. Coughlin
The Disability Studies in Education framework offers the best practices for working with, listening to, and addressing the strengths and needs of students with physical disabilities in schools. Areas covered include reducing barriers to physical and social access, utilizing expertise of students with disabilities to inform practice, reducing stigma while creating disability culture in the classroom, and assisting students with physical disabilities in building self-advocacy skills.
David Connor and Louis Olander
Ideological disputes about what human differences constitute disabilities undergird two very distinct positions that are known as medical and social models of disability. The positions significantly impact how inclusive education is envisioned and enacted, with proponents of each model holding fast to what they believe is “best” for students. Related areas of significant dissension among the two viewpoints include: (a) the concept of disability and “appropriate” placement of students deemed disabled, (b) the purpose of schools, (c) the nature of teaching and learning, (d) a teacher’s roles, (e) the notion of student success and failure, and (f) perceptions of social justice and disability. These interconnected and sometimes overlapping areas convey how medical or social models of inclusive education can vary dramatically, depending upon an educator’s general ideological disposition toward disability or difference.
The reform of public education through the application of principles of free-market capitalism, particularly notions of competition and choice, has long enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, reflecting trends in other industrialized countries. The basic assumption is that the competitive pressures of the market, instantiated through various forms of school choice and high-stakes accountability, will necessarily lead to more efficient and effective schools while honoring parents’ right to determine what is best for their children. Concurrently, another group of educational reformers, advocating for the rights of students with disabilities, have pushed for the transformation of schools, with the goal of creating spaces congenial to the range of human differences, including disability. The problem is that the basic assumptions that underpin free-market reforms and the principles of inclusion are incompatible. One of the requirements of school choice, for example, is the production and marketing of data based on standardized assessment practices and standardized curricula. This tendency toward standardization in market-oriented schools, saturated with the ideology of normality, is antithetical to the conception of diversity that informs the desire for inclusive schools.
Rachel Hanebutt and Carlyn Mueller
Disability studies and crip theory emerged out of a need to reimagine, and directly challenge, dominant deficit perspectives of disability in many different contexts. Instead of framing disability as a problem of individual bodies, where the solution to difference is found in often deeply harmful rehabilitation and intervention, disability studies and crip theory allow for a more critical and expansive look at disability as an aspect of identity and culture that holds inherent value. While disability studies and crip theory have been used in academic and activist spaces, the impacts of a more critical and expansive framing of disability have incredibly important impacts on, and reciprocal relationships with, the theory and practice of education. Disability studies and crip theory both work to simultaneously critique and change dominant perspectives of disability in school settings, as it does in academic theory spaces; it challenges teachers, schools, and curriculum to ask questions of the benefits of using deficit perspectives, and what is lost when disability is seen only as a problem to be fixed. In this way, these two fields of inquiry and practice continue to shape, challenge, and push each other toward a more just sense of disability for all.
Missy Morton and Annie Guerin
Sociocultural perspectives on curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment support teachers in developing and implementing inclusive pedagogies. Sociocultural assessment approaches disregard impairment as an identity in itself, privileging the strengths and knowledge evident in observed interactions. A sociocultural approach to assessment recognizes the dynamic interaction between teaching, learning, and assessment, spread across people, places, and time. Where traditional forms of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment focus on a decontextualized individual, a sociocultural perspective pays close attention to contexts. Teachers’ practices, expectations, and understandings of learning and diversity form a key part of the contexts. In culturally responsive paradigms, learning is recognized as sociocultural—being informed through interactions with others. All students are recognized and valued as people who gain experiences and knowledge across many contexts. Multiple perspectives are valued as shared understandings and constructions of learning are developed in response to observations and interactions in a community of learners—where students and teachers learn with and from each other. Teachers who recognize themselves as capable of teaching everyone in the class are more likely to recognize everyone as a learner, to think critically about their positioning and understanding of disability, and to plan teaching, learning, and assessment in inclusive ways of working.