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April 29, 2024

Bridging the gap: Supporting students with disabilities in accessing inclusive literacy opportunities

Conversations of what it means to have inclusive education are finally becoming more common. That being said, we still have a long way to go. A functioning society that is fair and just should ensure that all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, have equal educational opportunities.

Let’s explore how important access to inclusive literacy is for all children and the challenges presented. By understanding the topic, we can take impactful steps for positive change. 

What is inclusive literacy?

Inclusive literacy education ensures that all students, including those with disabilities, can see themselves in the books they read and have access to the support and resources they need to succeed. 

Because many students learn differently and at different paces, one way to ensure literacy education is inclusive is to offer individualized support to students. This may include using assistive technology, more one-on-one time, and additional time to complete tasks. 

a child reading a book with a tutor; inclusive literacy

Why is inclusive literacy important?

Reading and writing allow us to communicate, express, and understand the world around us. For students with disabilities, literacy is incredibly important; it helps them find ways to interpret their own world. 

When children learn to read, their confidence soars. And with confidence comes an increase in their ability to communicate with their peers, teachers, and family. 

It also allows them to self-advocate as they continue to learn what literacy is the best approach to it. A boost from self-esteem naturally improves a child’s ability to converse and express themselves in both individual and group settings.

Children with disabilities learn to advocate for themselves as they develop literacy. When they don’t see children or adults similar to themselves, they can feel unrepresented and ‘different” from their peers. Learning to read with characters that relate to them is a great way to provide role models and comfort. If you’re looking for these kinds of characters, check out this booklist from the NY Public Library filled with stories that embrace disability and difference.

There are many benefits to providing an inclusive learning environment. The best news is that many are immediate benefits of approaching strategy differently. Let’s talk about them so we can bridge the gap and create a better learning environment. 

a stack of books; inclusive literacy

Assisted methods for inclusive literacy

For some kids, their journey to literacy proficiency might require additional tools to assist them in the learning process. It’s similar to how learning beginner guitar chords may require individualized attention for some while others can pick it up from video demonstration.

To best support children with disabilities and implement an inclusive literacy environment, here are some  approaches educators and families can take.

Individualized attention

Children with or without disabilities are all unique. When it comes to inclusive literacy, it’s important to address the child’s current reading level and abilities, as well as what roadblocks they may be experiencing when learning.

For example, a child who may be on the spectrum with autism can benefit from more individualized attention, dependent on their needs. For some children with disabilities, group settings can be triggering and less controllable. A trusted professional can manage this much better in an individualized setting. 

This can take time to develop a plan because learning and observing how the child approaches literacy is important. To discover patterns, be sure to give the child enough runway before providing an immediate correction.

a student and tutor working together to strengthen the child's literacy skills; inclusive literacy

Assistive technology

Technology has continued to develop in our fast-paced society. One of the benefits of technology is that it has made reading and writing more inclusive for everybody. One popular method is text-to-speech. This tool is incredibly important for those who have a hard time spelling.

However, those with dyslexia and who are learning to read can appreciate that most web pages now offer a read-to-text option. By hearing text read aloud, these students can access the same educational content as their peers, which helps in creating an inclusive learning environment.

Every child has a unique learning style. Some children are auditory learners and understand content better when they hear it. Text-to-speech can cater to these learning preferences, thus aiding comprehension and retention of information from early on. 

Extra time

Learning may take a little bit longer for some kids with disabilities. Being aware of how these students are progressing can clue educators and families in to situations where they may need to enourage their learner to take more time to complete tasks. By taking the pressure off of their student and creating a more welcoming, relaxed environment, that student may be more likely to feel comfortable while they learn. And when students feel included and encourgaed, they’re more likely to develop key literacy skills that will help them succeed in school and beyond. 

students reading a book with an americorps member; inclusive literacy

Small improvements add up

If you’re wanting to create a more inclusive learning environment, there’s no need for a complete program overhaul. Small adjustments can go a long way in improving a classroom or educational space and making it more comfortable for children with disabilities. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Build your classroom around the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), ensuring that teaching methods, materials, and assessments are accessible and effective for all students, regardless of their learning abilities. This approach would include flexible learning environments where students can choose how they learn best, whether through visual aids, auditory lessons, or hands-on activities.
  2. Equip your classroom with state-of-the-art assistive technology, including text-to-speech software, audiobooks, and digital texts with adjustable fonts and colors to cater to the diverse needs of students. 
  3. Ensure the evaluation of student learning is multifaceted, moving beyond traditional tests to include portfolios, presentations, and project-based assignments. These assessments would allow students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that best suit their learning styles and abilities.
  4. Focus on social and emotional learning, helping students develop the skills necessary to navigate the world confidently and compassionately. This would include teaching empathy, resilience, and communication skills as integral parts of the curriculum.

The focus always comes back to providing an environment where one child can get as far as another with their literacy despite what challenges they may face. Whether you are an educator, a volunteer, or a family member, consider this information when working with kids.

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