Disability rights activist Judith Heumann said during a recent talk with students at Stanford Graduate School of Education that schools can be key vehicles for helping students with all abilities thrive and live full lives.
Schools must have a clear vision for what inclusivity looks like, she said. And they must create environments “where children feel respected across the board, where teachers take responsibility for all children valuing one another, and where the school itself goes beyond just schooling to developing a community of people who understand the importance of supporting each other.”
Heumann’s talk was hosted by GSE Professor Christine Min Wotipka, Christopher Thomas, GSE Social Entrepreneur in Residence, and Ben Woodford, PhD student in Mathematics Teacher Education. It was co-sponsored by the GSE’s Initiative on Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education, an interdisciplinary research, training, and policy effort focused on improving the lives of millions of children worldwide with diverse learning needs.
The virtual discussion came several weeks into the COVID-19 crisis that has closed most school campuses from pre-kindergarten through college. The impact on people with learning differences has been especially hard.
Heumann said the disruptions from the pandemic highlight the need to work cohesively to advance education for all learners. She said policy discussions must include the voices of people with disabilities. Obstacles to inclusion, she noted, endure because disability is not woven into mainstream culture.
Heumann has a long history in activism. She played a pivotal role in reframing disability rights as human rights, helping drive the passage of landmark legislation and policies in the United States. She served as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services during the Clinton Administration, as the World Bank’s first Advisor on Disability and Development, and as President Barack Obama’s Special Advisor on Disability Rights to the State Department.
She said Stanford can help advance outcomes for all learners. “If disability becomes more commonplace at places like Stanford," she said, "Stanford can become a leader in setting the direction for higher education to expand its ability to effectively educate all people.”
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