We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) used the expertise of Carolyn Mueller and Lauren Zepp from UW-Madison for an article on the organization’s blog entitled “How to Make Disability Justice a Classroom Priority”.
Müller (left) and Zepp
Mueller is an assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE), and Zepp is an RSPE PhD student.
The article advocates that schools include curricula that explicitly teach about disabled voices and experiences, and that teaching about identity in the classroom should allow for the full range of skills without shame or judgment.
Mueller stated, “I think a pervasive attitude towards disability is that we adjust and ‘circumvent’ it, but not (something we learn or consider about a respected identity, community or culture in the world). This attitude harms everyone, but especially young people with disabilities, who are never positively reflected in school. “
Zepp noted that “disability is so socially stigmatized that we don’t even talk to children about their disability on IEPs”.
From her experience as a special education teacher, Zepp added, “Students came into my classroom and didn’t associate themselves with the identity of the disability at all – they even actively refused to have someone approach them because it was seen as so shameful and something you do Even if you personally acknowledge it, you would never say it out loud to another person, and certainly not to your colleagues. “
Zepp also spoke about the importance of teaching disability rights and movements throughout history. “I was helping my students with a history problem about the civil rights movement… When one of my (disabled) students asked, ‘What about people like us? Is someone trying to get us rights? ‘”
Zepp said teaching about the disability rights movement “was something that gave my students a broader perspective on the world. And that’s how I learned about disability rights and the history of disability in America. Before that, even as a special education teacher, I had no idea of anything beyond ‘this is IDEA (the law on persons with disabilities), and that is what the law means for schools’. Therefore (teaching and researching disability rights) was a crucial moment for me as a teacher and as a person. “
The article explains that as with a marginalized identity, disabled students need access to communities that share and understand their experiences.
“What I have heard time and again from adults with disabilities is that they need a connection to the disabled community, participation in the disabled culture, role models and reflection in the curriculum from teachers and schools,” said Müller. “This requires a different positioning of teachers: one of the allies and the conscious listening of the disabled community as fundamental to the work of educating students with disabilities.”
Learn more about this critical topic by reading the full article on diversebooks.org.