Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes; just like students! Whether a student was born with a disability or acquired it later in life; whether the disability is physical or developmental, students with disabilities continue to face tremendous barriers when attempting to access their fundamental right to a basic and reasonable education. Let’s be clear: we’ve come a long way in the last 50 years. We’ve seen amazing and inspirational changes thanks to the hard work of teachers, administrators, parents, advocates, and (of course) students. But there is still work to be done. Students with disabilities still have to fight for the same quality of education that their non-disabled classmates receive without a fuss. Here are the top 5 barriers to education for students with disabilities:
Even today in 2018, there are teachers and administrators with negative attitudes toward students with disabilities. Ableism is something that has been in the news quite a bit the past few years thanks to films like Me Before You and it’s something no one would dare admit to, but it definitely still exists. Major education associations like the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council have published reports about the dynamic between stereotypes and inclusion and the impact on students with disabilities.
- A lack of resources
Yes, bringing up the lack of resources in education has been done before. It’s the oldest line in the book but it still rings true. In fact, it’s getting worse. In 2014, Arizona was ranked 49th in per-pupil education spending. Since the dawn of institutionalized education, there has been a lack of resources and funding. The group of students most affected by a lack of resources is students with disabilities. Anyone could imagine how difficult and frustrating it is to secure funding for everything a student would need to be successful. The crux of the problem is actually getting the support on the ground in the timely manner. All the funding in the world is pointless if it doesn’t put resources in the classroom. Wheelchair ramps and other support systems need to be ready to go in September – not held off until the bureaucratic process runs its course.
- Unqualified and overworked teachers
Much like the last point, this one is an old one but still very much alive and well. According to a report published by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the facts here are a bit grim. For starters, since 2003, the number of special education students has risen by 24% and Arizona ranks 48th with it’s teacher to students ratio of 22.3 to 1. Unless a teacher has received specialized training as part of their degree, they rarely receive enough on-the-job training to cope with managing the needs of students with disabilities. Pop quiz! What happens when a teacher has to take a day (or multiple days) off? You probably guessed that the school would call a substitute teacher – a fully qualified teacher who doesn’t have a regular full-time commitment. Not quite. To be eligible for a substitute teacher certification, you only need a bachelor’s degree and a fingerprint clearance card. You do not need a degree in education to become a substitute teacher. Akin to the other points above, this problem negatively impacts students with disabilities much more than any other group of students.
- A lack of cooperation between guardians and the school.
You would think we’d all be on the same team when it comes to providing students with a quality education. It takes a village to education a child and when a student comes in with special needs, there needs to be an “all hands on deck” attitude. The other barriers are often catalysts for tension between the key players in a student’s education. The parents don’t feel heard, the teacher is overworked, the administrators need everyone to be patient, the resources need to be found and paid for, and a bureaucrat needs to cut the check. When the adults have reached an impasse, it’s the student who suffers the most.