The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

From Special Needs to Meaningful Inclusion The impact of UDL

Alan Bruce, Universal Learning Systems (Ireland)


Social inclusion is about ensuring that alternative aspects of the human experience are fostered and vindicated. This means communities of the marginalized need to better define their needs and potential contribution to the wider societies of which they are part. Those excluded by unequal systems should be seen as integral components of a global effort to ensure that the world is not a uniform, suburbanized market place but a living and diverse collection of richly different communities. Social inclusion can be seen as an integral element of a reassertion of the primacy of human values in teaching, research and best practice. Overcoming marginalization means equipping educational stakeholders not simply with the mechanisms to understand social challenges - but also, to be able to do something about them. Social exclusion implies both a structure and a process in the ordering of human relations. As a structure, social exclusion relates to:

·      unequal levels of ownership of resources

·      unequal levels of opportunity

·      unequal levels of privilege and status in accessing goods, services or information.

As a process, social exclusion is concerned with categories that historically may vary but are, in whatever form, denied full participation and equality.

Managing equality approaches can be seen as a tool to enable educators to adapt to challenges posed by differentiated populations. In a wider context, it is a resource to engage with external change processes while tapping into levels of creativity and potential. The critical need for rights and inclusion are international issues – a fact not always represented in professional teaching formation. In the past, addressing needs of those excluded was assumed to be under the heading of ‘special needs’. Removal of barriers to participation goes beyond the ‘special’ towards a vision that emphasizes design in achieving best practice in inclusion. Barriers to equality stem from prejudice and ignorance. Removal of barriers can be addressed by transformation achieved by educators seizing the opportunities offered by Universal Design for Learning models (UDL).

The emergence of the independent living movement and a rights-based model around disability issues in education reflects a conceptual difference between pupil inclusion (equity of experience) and pupil integration (being in a mainstream setting but not necessarily fully included). The disparity between individual and community based models demonstrates that continuing gaps exist at policy level regarding fully inclusive education for disabled students (Ainscrow, 1999). Even in those countries where the policy context supports a shift to inclusion, specific professional supports to develop practice are missing. Access to inclusive education promotes equal opportunities for pupils with disabilities, which allows them to live independently and contribute actively to mainstream society. This paper examines the role played by UDL in this process.

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