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What is Inclusion?

Check out the graduation pictures of my two sons.

What’s the same? What’s different?

BACK to SCHOOL Article 3

To celebrate the new school year here are some of my favorite posts:

Article 1: Why Do We Go to School?

Article 2: Back to School| A New Year of Learning

What is Inclusion?

The concept of INCLUSION is both simple and complex.

It means being able to go to the same school your brothers and sisters go to. The same school that is on the realtor’s fact sheet, you know the one: “If you buy this house, here is the neighborhood school you go to.” That’s simple, right?

In 1980 in Ohio, when my son Aaron turned 5 and was eligible to go to school, because he had the label of autism and developmental disabilities, he and other children with IQs below 50 were legally excluded from public schools. That’s complex.

It all changed because of Federal Legislation, yea those dang Government laws everyone hates.

When you suffer from exclusion and segregation, those Federal rules and regulations save the day.

History Lessons: Past

When new schools were built in the 50s-60s-70s-80s, the old white schools became “negro” schools. When even more new schools were built for the white children (think baby boomers), then the children with disabilities were moved up into the schools vacated by the “negroes.”

Schools: White to Negro to Handicapped to Demolished

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975 and gave parents the right to a free appropriate public education, zero reject, related services, due process and the “least restrictive environment.”

At the time of the Neill Roncker and Aaron Ulrich due process hearings, the decrepit Dyer School was a handicapped-only school. Cincinnati Public Schools rented the school to the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities for $1.00 a year (Roncker hearing).

Parents and local Board of Mental Retardation officials were happy to be able to move out of church basements into the discarded school. They were also thrilled to be building new segregated facilities, handicapped only, with local levy dollars.

That was our court battle–to be able to ride the bus, go to school, eat lunch with typical kids… in our neighborhood school–not a “handicapped-only” school.

Inclusion is a civil right

“Inclusion is a right, not a special privilege for a select few.” – Federal Court, Oberti vs Board of Education.

For information about the history of children with disabilities check out the Minnesota DD Planning council’s excellent resource, Parallels in Time 2

History Lessons| Inclusion Today

Here is a recent video about a young woman with the label of autism. You will see her general education teacher, her parent, her inclusion facilitator, the general music teacher but most of all you will see the future citizens of our country.

Here is a picture of inclusion. A picture of hope. (Thanks to Donna Owens, OCALI)

Thaysa from Dan Habib on Vimeo.

Definition of Inclusion

Giangreco (see Resources) has defined the criteria for inclusion:

Students go to the same school as their brothers, sisters, and neighbors;

They participate in the same environments as their peers (lunchroom, bus, playground, classrooms);

According to their IEP, the student has the extra supports they need to be successful (therapy, adapted curriculum materials, an aide, teacher inservice);

There should be a natural proportion of children with/without disabilities, (if 10% of students are on IEPs in a school–no more than 10% of the students in any one class should be on IEPs).

An Inclusive Graduation Ceremony

So did you see any similiarities and differences in the graduation pictures above?

Almost everything about Tommy and Aaron’s Graduation ceremonies were the same. At the time, Lakota High School was one of the largest high schools in the state. Tommy and Aaron both had HUGE graduating classes held at the University of Cincinnati. Both had cheering parents and friends.

The difference between Aaron’s school experience and his typical brother Tommy’s, is evidenced in their graduation pictures above.

Aaron didn’t have to go through a segregated graduation ceremony and earn the right or prove he was ready to go to the inclusive celebration.

We did prepare by considering what would Aaron need to be added or subtracted from the typical graduation experience.

In his case, Aaron needed an extra support person, his wonderful teacher Mr. Mike Valdini. And, what needed to be subtracted–the mortar board hat!

I like to think our early battles for inclusion help the young children today—all of them, with and without disabilities.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,



It now seems like the concept of inclusion has been around forever. But like any civil rights movement, we often don’t move forward in a straight line. What are some of your experiences?

Related Posts:

The Values of Inclusion from Down Under

Down by the Ole Mainstream

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57 Responses to “What is Inclusion?”

  • Destany Atkinson says:

    I think it’s great that teachers were so passionate about keeping a willing student in school! I feel like it’s both ethically and constitutionally right to let students go to school where ever their family and they want and feel safe. To not allow students to go to a school because they’re different is wrong.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      It’s hard to believe we are still fighting discrimination in 2014. Thanks for your comments Destany.

  • Jacob says:

    I love seeing these teachers do whatever they can to keep Thaysa in the classroom. It awesome to see these teachers doing their best to meet the child needs. They wanted to be proactive about constantly trying to different things to have her express what she wants or needs to the best of her ability. They are giving to technology to better her in the classroom. This is a great example on how someone that may be “out of control” can actually be an active part of the classroom. Without inclusion how would this child have ever been able to be in public without throwing a fit. This way the child can have the social experiences and even the children in the class can have social experiences as well. You cannot eradicate this discrimination without inclusion!

    • Mary says:

      Instead of Thaysa being hidden away in some institution, she is the star of the school program. We are living in a great time of opportunity, aren’t we?

  • Amanda McCarthy says:

    I loved the video about Thasya. I admired how brave her mother was and how cooperative the other students became with her. Inclusion really makes the student with special needs feel included. They responded really well to her.

    • Mary says:

      You’re right Amanda, it is an amazing video, because it shows how everyone was working together and saw her talent, instead of her faults–that is a message for all of us.

  • Amanda McCarthy says:

    I loved the video about Thasya. I admired how brave her mother was and how cooperative the other students became with her. Inclusion really makes the student with special needs feel included.

  • I really enjoyed the video on Thasya. I thought it was really cool how they were able to engage her in the classroom by using a talk box. I actually went to Kindergarten with a girl who used a talk box and I didn’t fully understand what it was at the time. Being able to see exactly what it was and how it worked now was really awesome.
    Julie Farrell recently posted..Building Community: one grocery trip at a time

    • mary says:

      That is so cool. Not only can you relate to the class, but now, as a future teacher, you can learn about it on another level. 🙂

  • Leah Brubaker (student) says:

    I really liked the video about Thasya in this section. It was interesting to hear the signs that Thasya mom noticed before taking her to the doctor to be diagnosed with autism. Thasya is mostly motivated by music because of her short attention span. I found that very interesting that she is musically inclined, it proves yes she has a disability but she is still able to learn just like any other children. I was still a little confused about inclusion before I watched the video and felt like the whole video demonstrated inclusion perfectly for me and I have a much better understanding of it.

    • mary says:

      Good, good, good. I’m glad “inclusion” is starting to make sense. In my experience it is giving the student and teacher the support they need to make it work. Keep asking those great questions.

  • I enjoyed the video of Thaysa. It gave a great perspective on what it is like to have autism and how someone with autism can learn. I also thought the mother was brave for sending her daughter to school even with all her fear she had for her child.
    Courtney Magoto recently posted..Better than Church

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Looks are deceiving aren’t’ they? I thought this was inspiring too. And the mom was brave. Good for you for seeing her POV and her courage to take risks.

  • Paige Francis says:

    I really like reading this post. I think it brings up a lot of still unanswered questions. I think that there is still inclusion in schools. I think that there is away to fix this problem in schools, but i don’t think this problem will fixed for awhile. I think that people have to understand the word respect before anything will change because respect is the whole part of it. I really learned a lot from reading this article,

    • Mary says:

      You are right Paige. There are millions of unanswered questions. But, at least now, you can see my POV and maybe that will help you decide what you think. Thanks.

  • Lisa Gasparec says:

    I found this article to be very inspiring.It makes me want to do more to make sure kids with disabilities can have the same experiences as children who don’t have disabilities. The article shows how although throughout history the idea of inclusion wasn’t a popular idea in the beginner, it is becoming more common.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI Lisa, It is a journey–and inclusion just seems right. In the future it will probably get another twist and be even better, but today this is the best we can work for.

  • Hannah Lehn says:

    Before my sophomore year of High School, I had little to no interaction with people with disabilities. My mom is a physical therapist for children with disabilities and when I went to visit her at work that was the only interaction I really had. As a sophomore in High School I stated to take yearbook and most of the students in the special education program were in the class as well. This inclusion environment was what made me want to become a special education teacher. It was a great experience for the special education students as well as the other students. We all got to work together to make the yearbook and we all learned from each other. I made some great friends that were in the special education program at our school because of this inclusive environment. It was a great experience for the special education students academically and socially.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      We’re glad you chose Special Education. We need good people like yourself who are willing to take risks to help vulnerable people.

  • Mary says:

    Civil Rights make all the difference. Most of us take them for granted, especially if we come from the dominant society–we aren’t even aware of our privileges.

    And, you’re right Paige, it is all about “fairness” not just for people with disabilities but all people who are on the “borders” of our society.

    We have made great progress, the trick is to keep going.

  • Paige Gieske says:

    I really like the quote, “Inclusion is a right, not a special privilege for a select few.” I think this is true, because every one should be treated equally and others shouldn’t get special treatment when some one else can’t, just because they have a disability. It’s nice when the Federal Laws have such an impact on the lives of some people. It would be completely unfair if those with a disability weren’t offered education. And everyone should be offered the ability to ride the bus, go to school, eat lunch with typical kids no matter what kind of disability they have. I’m glad that our world has come so far, but we still have a ways to go so that we can reach full equality and acceptance for those with disabilities.

  • Ed Carlin says:

    This is a great article I did not know it took until 1975 for handicapped children to be allowed into public schools with zero reject and provided with services. My hat goes off to you for fighting for this for everyone and not giving up. I think we have come a long way since 1975 with inclusion in schools, but we still have a ways to go. It is always good to see and hear there are people out there willing to fight for what is right.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Ed,
      It’s such a recent event in the history of the world, and such a big part of my life. That’s why I get so emotional about it all. Everyone will have some cause come up in their lifetime. Then, it is up to you to choose what to do.
      Glad you liked the article.

  • Helen Macmann says:

    It’s so nice to see children with disabilities being included in the education system. I remember seeing this show once where the father had dyslexia and his mother never put him in to special education classes and he never learned to read and when he asked her why she did this to him, she said she didn’t want the other kids to make fun of him. In my high school the people with disabilities weren’t excluded, and it would have been terrible if they had been treated like that. The definition of inclusion reminds me of Daniel R.R. and how if he couldn’t be educated in regular classes could he at least be able to go to lunch, recess and ride the bus with the other kids. Inclusion is important, we our one society that needs to help and support one another.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Hi Helen,

      You have a great attitude and I wonder if part of it came from your experience in your school years. Sounds like an interesting movie, parents are complex people and love/safety are complex. Your heart breaks for the lost opportunities of that young man in the movie. Wow! hope that is not still happening. And, Daniel R.R. at least had some opportunities with other kids.

  • Victoria Seitz says:

    At my high school, the special education class rooms were smack dabe in the middle of the school! We all loved it; the students would come and walk through the halls and everyone would include them in conversations. I had a friend who would stop by the classroom everyday between 3rd and 4th period just to give Jared a high five. My high school also had an club called, Circle of Friends, which was a group of students with and with out a disability. Twice a month the students would get together during lunch and do an activity and eat together. (I was apart of this group!) This is amazing and I am so glad things have changed in the education system!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You will have to tell us more about the “circle of friends” Sounds like you went to a progressive high school. What a great experience.

  • Jaden Salensky says:

    At my highschool the special education classroom kept to itself mostly, some of the “less involved” students would go out into resource classes but that was pretty much it. They did however allow me to go and get my sister out of the classroom to eat lunch with my friends and myself. She always talked about that being the best part of her day. It made me really see that inclusion is not only a big deal to us to make sure that students with disabilities are included but how much THEY want to be included.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      HI Jaden,
      I’m sure it really was the best part of her day. How great that you were able to give her that opportunity.

      Hopefully the special education teachers today are more inclusive and more of their students have a chance to–at least– go to the lunchroom with everyone else. Attitude is everything.

      Thanks for sharing your story. If anything in class seems relevant, real stories are always great.

  • Davin Cuningham says:

    I must say that my hat goes off to you for fighting against injustice and ignorance. It’s hard to believe we live in a world that would continue to exclude any individual from society just because they maybe different from what is considered normal. This kind of thinking is what keeps us from progressing forward. I am glad to have read this and to meet such a great woman like you Mary Ulrich you are truly a courageous person who saw that inclusion is something that needed to be done to make today’s youths with disabilities able to have a chance in society.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Davin, Thanks for your kind words. I’m sure you know what it is like to advocate for your sister and daughter. You do what you have to do. If each of us does just a little we will make progress. Keep that positive attitude.

  • Katee Moon says:

    This story is very inspiring, and it really showed me how unaware of some things I am. I was never taught about this portion of inclusion. These kind of things are really left out of history books. My senior year government teacher would consider this a “black eye” in American history. I am glad things have changed, but it is still terrible that it was ever considered legal to exclude a deserving child from an education in a normal school setting.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      There are many children still fighting today. As a future professional you will have a chance to make a difference in a child or adult’s life and help them have more inclusive opportunities in their communities. Your teacher was right Katee. It is a “black eye” with lots of bruising.

  • ‘Aaron had lots of wonderful inclusive opportunities. He went on a regular bus to the same school as his brother and neighbors, he was on the regular track team, he went to a regular biology class, he went to the prom and participated in the graduation ceremony.’

    I loved this paragraph. Did the tassel on his mortar board bother him? 🙂

    School starts for us on Tuesday. We have no kids to include. They are all in special education units. Completely separate. I’m not even aware of any discussion for inclusion. Hmmm…
    Alison Golden recently posted..Why Twins Should Not Become One

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      The whole hat, mortar board thing made Aaron nuts. Mr. Valdini said he tried one last time to get Aaron to wear it as he climbed the steps onto the stage, but Aaron just said no way Jose.

      We were so proud when there was such nice applause as Aaron got his diploma. There were many wonderful inclusive moments in school.

      Alison, any time you want to talk about inclusion for your boys email me.

  • I know this is really boring and you are skipping to the next comment, but I just wanted to throw you a large thanks – you cleared up some things for me!

  • Mary says:

    Joe, what a beãutiful story. Iºll bet that young musician and his family still think of that day as one of the highlights of their lives. And you gave them that gift. Think of it as a large solid gold trophy.

    If you can think of more stories please share. We are starving for good news. Every time someone says, ªBut kids are so cruel.ª I like to tell them stories like this one. Sure some kids are not nice to others, but there are plenty of general education students like yourself who are just terrific kids who are making the future brighter for each of us.

    Thanks, you are an inspiration.

  • Joe says:

    Wow, Mary. I have a hard time holding back my tears of anger when I read you dining story. I think it is sad that people are so insecure with themselves that they single others out like this.

    I wanted to send a story of hope albeit, based on how long ago it happeend it makes me wonder how much progress has been made. Hoepfully, your site will continue to bring the importance of inclusion into the forefront of people’s lives. I have so many stories to share, however, I thought I woudl start with this one.

    Your son’s story reminds of a story from High School. I was always very involved with the “special needs” classes. I worked successfully to get students into Chorus and Band classes.

    I still remember when we were in a marching band competition and we had the “option” of not including one of our band percussion members (Michael, who has Downs Syndrome) on the field. The thought was because he most often did march in time with the rest of the band, he would hurt our chances of winning.

    The group unanimously insisted to have him included. It wasn’t a matter of winning in someone else’s eyes (the judges), he was a member of our team and that is how we saw him. Oddly enough I don’t remember what place we took in that competition, but I will never forget how excited Michael and his family were to be a part of it. That was worth more than any long forgotten plastic trophy.

    That was over 20 years ago. It is amazing to me that this is still so hard for people to understand. People are people. Everyone is different in their own way and the only way we can grow is by getting to know one another and celebrating the differences; not by separating them.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Keri Stevens says:

    Wow,Mary. I learned so much in this blog entry alone – and I worked for years for a university center for disability-related resources! I hope many people find a regular home in your new blog.

    • Mary says:

      We’ll have to talk some more about that. Wow Keri, You have so many gifts, you are a great mom, know languages, are a published author and now even more talents in a disability related area.

  • Becke Davis says:

    Thank heavens for inclusion! Mary, this is a wonderful blog. I hope it will raise awareness of the issues you discuss, and will bring information and comfort to families that are dealing with similar problems to the ones who’ve had to handle.

    It’s easy to see that you poured your heart into your posts here. I hope your blog goes out to a LOT of people. I just posted the link on my Facebook page.

    • Mary says:

      It is funny how some people don’t know much about disability issues and they just “get it.” I’m glad this made sense to you Becke, some people read books, attend conferences… and it just doesn’t match their paradigm or something. They just can’t see the “civil rights” part of it.

  • Monica Burns says:

    Personally, I can’t believe you ACTUALLY PAID the bill! It’s amazing that people allow fear to control their inability to accept. I’m not sure we’ve come very far in this respect. Discrimination is still far to prevalent in our society.

    • Mary says:

      25 years later I am still angry enough to go throw eggs at their windows. Guess it’s a good thing we were 1000 miles away. Thanks for sharing my anger. It does help that others are as outraged as I was.

      The next day we were going through Colorado Springs and decided to have lunch at the Broadmore. Haah! We felt vindicated even though the grilled cheese sandwich cost $5.00 (in 1985)

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