There seems to be a common theme emerging in everything that I'm studying and reading about inclusion for students with "significant disabilities" and that is one of focusing on finding ways to increase participation rather than just focusing on "access to curriculum".
I have just finished a group project for my masters program where we looked at SMART inclusion. The course we are currently taking focuses on UDL, DI and Assessment. SMART inclusion starts with the concepts of UDL and DI but then uses the Participation Model and Aided Language Stimulation (two SLP concepts) to ensure that all students are able to participate in the class both socially and academically. Check out the SMART inclusion wiki which was created by the founders of the concept for background: http://smartinclusion.wikispaces.com/Smart+Inclusion+Home and check out the website we created that synthesizes what we learned while looking up information related to SMART inclusion: http://www.wix.com/monicabraat/smartinclusion. I'm hoping to soon write a post about applying some of the SMART inclusion philosophy in practice! Research shows benefits to all students in using the SMART inclusion approach.
My next research project for my masters course involves using a peer group to assist with introducing the PODD communication system to a couple of my upper elementary students. I'm hoping to use this as a springboard to incorporating some academic peer support strategies. I'm using several sources for background information but the one that I'm finding to be the most useful is a book called "Peer Support Strategies for Improving All Students Social Lives and Learning". The major focus of this book is around increasing both social and academic participation by having peers support students with significant disabilities. Research shows benefits to all students in using these types of strategies. The research project will be completed in early December but it is a spring board in to a lot of other things and I hope to be blogging about more as we go through the year as this is one of my big focuses for all of my students this year.
I have talked about the "Beyond Access Model" before. To me this is an approach that holds the most promise in regards to finding a systematic way to truly include my students in the long run. The model is built on presuming competence and taking a team approach to find ways to ensure that students with significant disabilities are able to participate socially, academically and in routines in a general education classroom. Ways to check fidelity and efficacy are built right in to the system. The idea behind this model is that membership in the classroom is assumed. When a student is a member we need to focus on increasing participation and learning will happen in the middle of participation. Traditionally we have focused on how to support learning (looking at access) but if we look at increasing participation instead then learning happens as a result of that participation. We still need to look at learning but we widen our focus.
I read the book New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice this summer. Great book! The book speaks to the goal of special education as being that of eliminating the impact of disability and increasing participation in general education classrooms. Seems about right to me.
I find that when we focus on increasing participation one step at a time we also step towards "inclusion".