Diana Pastora Carson is a special education teacher and founder of Ability Awareness in Action organization. She always had an interest in changing the lives of disabled people from pitiful life and exclusion to inclusion and life full of dignity and hope. The concern in Diana’s nature came from presence of a brother who was preserved from others as a disabled and dependent human being. Diana’s Brother, Joaquin, was diagnosed with Autism at an early age. While he was in school, he had been placed in an exclusive classroom for students with significant mental retardation.
He was twice placed in a state institute due to misunderstanding of his character and his attempts to communicate with his services. Currently, Joaquin resides in a state institute, where he is ill, emotionally and physically, from being locked up in a building away from his friends and family. He expressed his feelings about living in such environment to his sister in a painful way as he once said: “Diana, people are so boring here”. His family has been trying to get him out of there as soon as possible.
They have also taken his case to the court and are waiting for the final decision to be made. They want to get Joaquin out of there and bring him in a home of his own with people who love him instead of staying in that institute any longer. The training, titled ‘Inclusive Instructional Strategies and Accommodations’, is about including all children, whether they have a disability or not, in general education classrooms specifically, and in the community, generally. Everybody deserves to belong to and live in their communities.
A teacher has an enormous role in making all students belong to that classroom through her knowledge about each and every student of his/hers, and through recognizing uniqueness in each one of them. This should make the teacher create a supportive environment that meets each student’s needs, and an atmosphere that promotes acceptance of differences and diversity, learning, hope, and collaboration. Moreover, the teacher is responsible for building a curriculum that meets each student’s level and accommodates tests and homework. A great teacher would avoid labels that discriminate individuals with disabilities to avoid lower expectations.
Those labels may help professionals recognize what disabilities the students have, in order to provide them with services that meet their needs. However, people within the same label or disabilities may vary; therefore, we cannot always judge someone based on the labels. Moreover, it is very unprofessional to address someone by his/her disabilities as no one likes to be looked at for something that they did not choose for his/her self and it may affect his/her self-confidence. Students’ dignity must be preserved by the teacher and whoever is around, for instance, peers, and family.
Professionals working with disabled people should advocate the community about appreciation of diversity and encourage students to speak out their thoughts, make choices, and blend in the society. Most importantly, the teachers should listen to students attentively; look at their body language, written expressions, and vocalization for effective communication. During the training, many strategies and activities to develop a classroom community were shared by Diana, such as setting roles for the classroom, encouraging reading books that promote diversity and discussions, and different cooperative games.
Diana also explained how a customized lesson should be designed as a teacher must know her/his students in order to alter lessons based on each student’s needs. Teachers should also know how to model, guide, and measure students’ independent achievements through knowledge of students’ strengths and limitations. Diana enlightened the importance of giving students’ time to process new information, retrieve old information, and speak out their answers.
It is very important to break the lesson into smaller parts along with asking questions in between to check students’ comprehension and to encourage discussions about the lesson. It is very essential to bring movement and interaction into the curriculum, serve the different types of intelligences and most importantly honor every student for who he/she is and be aware of the impact teaching will have on his/her future life. Furthermore, visual aids can assist students in organizing their thoughts, memorizing them, and make learning more enjoyable and personal to them.
Finally, commitment to learning, inclusion of all children, and building a quality future for each child is a must step for developing a loving community where everyone belongs. By having a brother with a disability, whose community isolated him from others by not providing him with education programs that serves his needs, making public places inaccessible for him, and not advocating the public about disabilities, Diana has learned to honor diversity and anyone who is working towards treating people with disabilities with dignity and respect.
It has encouraged her to change the lives of those who are different from normal people, whether with a disability or not. It has motivated her to include all of them in a classroom that promotes collaboration, understanding, and hope. Furthermore, it has opened her eyes to the importance of advocating the society about disabilities and their inclusion, to change the image and future of the disabled in the community.