3 Ways to Create a Disability-Inclusive Curriculum

Posted on • Reading Time: 4 min read

This article was written by Lauren Barack on November 1, 2023 and published by K-12 Dive.


Person in wheelchair moving through building

Disability-inclusive curriculum doesn’t necessarily teach students the specifics about a disability, but it instead offers perspective from people who experience a disability. Marcus Aurelius / Pexels

Alan Holdsworth started working on a disability-inclusive curriculum in 2009, reaching out to school districts in the Philadelphia area. But the director and founder of the nonprofit Disability Equality in Education, based in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, realized he didn’t have materials to show anyone.

Over the past several years, the group has developed a curriculum and lesson plans vetted and evaluated by people with disabilities, said Holdsworth.

The goal is not just to educate students about disabilities, but to offer lessons that are respectful of all students in a classroom to “….challenge the stigma of disability in education,” he said. Holdsworth notes that the group helps teach how to examine disabilities from a sociological perspective.

“Through education, we’re trying to have kids grow up feeling comfortable about having those conversations,” Holdsworth said. “So in 20 years, we may have a whole generation of kids who can go out into various fields of employment and change the world.”

Interest is slowly growing in developing a curriculum inclusive of people with disabilities. Pennsylvania, for example, launched a grant program this school year for public and private schools to build curricula that highlights people with disabilities, including those who have made political, economic and social differences in society.

The benefits of offering disability-inclusive lessons are extensive, say educators in the field, including helping to build empathy among students. And there are best practices that teachers and stakeholders hoping to start on this path should consider before trying to develop a curriculum on their own.

Here are some of the best resources to consider, according to experts.

Show don’t tell

Holdsworth said that his group’s curriculum doesn’t teach students the specifics about a disability but instead offers a perspective from someone who experiences the disability. Materials don’t always directly address an impairment, he said, but highlight the experiences of disabled people.

“We’re not trying to explain what autism is, for example, but instead say there are people in your community with autism and how they may be discriminated against,” he said.

For young students, Holdsworth encourages educators to include disability-related books in their classroom libraries, including Cece Bell’s “El Deafo.” The graphic novel follows Cece, a young student who wears a hearing aid to school and imagines herself with superhero hearing powers. He also points to Maria Gianferrari’s “Hello Goodbye Dog,” about a young girl named Zara and her dog Moose, who trains to become a therapy dog after he keeps sneaking into school.

“We’re looking at it from a sociological perspective,” Holdsworth said.