In many settings inclusion is in marked contrast to the experience, training, and belief system of those who are being asked to make it successful. Therefore, in order for schools and educators to design quality education for all students in the school, adequate information and support needs to be provided.
Before beginning to inform the members of a school community about inclusion it may be necessary to address their attitudes and ideas about disabilities that are unfamiliar to them. The term "ability awareness" has been used to refer to the process of re-educating people to see persons in respect to their abilities and gifts instead of their disabilities. The emphasis is on the similarities of the human experience in contrast to highlighting differences. In addition, accurate descriptions of particular disabilities are provided to debunk some of the myths and stereotypes that exist in our society. Designing ability awareness may include "role-playing", puppets, presentations by persons with disabilities, films, infusion into existing curriculum, etc... Depending on the needs of the school, ability awareness programs and information may be given to students, parents and educators either separately or as part of a large group.
The Family and Community Resource Center located in the central office of Special School District of St. Louis County has numerous resources and examples from local schools on ability awareness.
After helping educators, parents, and students understand the abilities of all people, initial awareness level training in inclusive education should be provided. An overview that includes the rationale, definition, and examples of inclusive education will give everyone a common knowledge base. Educators and parents who are already involved in inclusive education can relate their experiences and answer questions to respond to initial concerns.
Next, the staff of a school should receive information about the planning process for inclusive education. At this time key areas on the Student Specific Planning Process Checklist for Inclusive Education should be highlighted and described. This will assist staff in appreciating the way they will be able to support each other and collaborate as they implement new strategies.
Assess Ongoing Training Needs
Training for staff will continue; however, it will become more focused on the specific needs of the staff and student(s) being included. Moreover, some training may only apply to specific staff members. It may be beneficial to assess the staff at this point to design the ongoing training opportunities and locate additional resources. Finally, although training before inclusive education begins is important specific strategies may not seem relevant and useful to staff until they have "taken the plunge" into this new experience.