New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice. (2005). Book by Thomas Hehir. Harvard Education Press, 2005, ISBN-13 9781891792618,
Soraya Fallah, Ed.D., & Cklara Moradian, MSW Candidate.
Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)
California State University, Northridge (CSUN)
Thomas Hehir’s 2005 New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice deals more specifically with special education and systemic reform as it pertains to students with disabilities. Hehir (2005) begins by defining ableism as a pervasive and harmful cultural attitude that holds up abled bodied individuals as superior, which consequently leads to the marginalization of students with disabilities. He discusses how these attitudes plague both special education policy and practice, and laments that despite efforts to create more inclusive learning spaces, students with disabilities are still being left behind. Using personal stories, empirical data, and published research, Hehir (2005) offers common sense solutions to problems in special education, and urges educators, reformers, policy-makers, and practitioners to work towards the goal of eliminating ableism.
This book’s guiding principle is challenging ableism in policy and practice by providing guidelines for those in the field of special education. Just as Kozleski and Thorius (2014) points out, social inequality in education has a long history, is deeply rooted in the social construction of identity, and our categories of “difference”. Hehir (2005) points out that “inordinate segregation, low expectations, failure to provide accommodations, and misguided attempts to “cure” disability are all examples of practices that keep disabled students in a subordinate position” (p. 42).
Hehir (2005) extensively discusses inclusive education and cites empirical research, arguments, and counter-arguments for both the inclusion and exclusion of students with disabilities in and from general education classes. He then provides educators a set of guidelines, such as “removal should only occur if important learning goals cannot be achieved in the general education environment” (p. 77), “removal should not occur simply because general education refuses to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities” (p. 78) and “inclusion should be purposeful” (p. 81). One of the book’s strongest chapters is the discussion of “universal design” in both the actual physical space of school architecture, to curricular and policy considerations. Hehir (2005) writes that technology allows for greater access, but in order for the “promise of universal design” to be fully realized, schools need to include disability into their diversity discourse. Hehir (2005), however, does not think this alone can be the solution to creating an inclusive education system, especially in light of ableist assumptions about students with disabilities.
Furthermore, in the chapter 5, Hehir (2005) turns his attention to systemic reform and shares results from various initiatives throughout the country. He once again provides common-sense practical guidelines to educators in the field for how to deal with high-stakes testing of students with disabilities, such as “Start Early” (p. 136), “Curriculum Modification Should Be a Last Resort” (p. 137), and “Accommodations on Tests Should Mirror Instructional Accommodations” (p. 139). The final chapter of this book is devoted to policy recommendations, ranging from improving IEPS to increasing funding and training for educators. Hehir (2005) ends the book on a positive note, expressing hope in a new generation of educators, disability activists, and allies who are leading the way towards a more equitable inclusive education system.
This book echoes many of the discussions and sentiments expressed by the editors and authors on ableism and inclusivity. This book provides educators a roadmap to how systemic reform can move towards inclusivity and providing adequate and appropriate responses to student diversity. After reading this book we have walked away with an understanding of practical steps we can take before conceptualizing, creating, and ultimately implementing any type of change initiatives at a school site. The unpacking of ableism provided by Hehir (2005) has wide-reaching implications for educators and leaders in the field.
Hehir, Thomas. (2005). New directions in special education: Eliminating ableism in policy and practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press
Kozleski, E. B., &Thorius, K. K. (Eds.). (2014). Ability, equity, and culture: Sustaining inclusive urban education reform. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.