The challenge of inclusion for students with disabilities has been an ongoing conversation in education. For students in my high school, inclusion has primarily meant physical inclusion only — students with disabilities attended general education classes with typical peers. However, during lunch and after school they were usually alone and isolated from the usual social experiences that their typical peers enjoyed. My students practiced social fluency skills like eye contact and small talk in the classroom, but they never had the chance to put these skills into action by making true friendships. Participating in team sports or landing a part in the school play was only a dream. While I don’t think it was ever out of malice or hatred, ignorance towards the students with intellectual disabilities ensured my students were left out of things and never integrated into the fabric of our school community — and like any other student who feels isolated or alone, my students could feel that they were “outsiders.”
Joseph entered his freshman year at Roosevelt High School in a wheelchair and was scared to death of the prospect of being in a school of seventeen hundred students. According to his mother, he was a boy who easily cried and resisted going to school because the experience offered him little reward.
Fast forward two years later and Joseph now wakes up on his own every morning, excited to go to school — he hasn’t missed a day all year. He’s excited to see “the guys,” as he refers to his teammates, and loves walking around the school and having the other kids say hello to him. Everyone knows Joseph’s name and they show genuine interest in his life and well-being; and that means the world to Joseph. He has true friendships, and speaks before hundreds of students at school assemblies about inclusion and acceptance..