Editorial: Including students with disabilities


Photo by Elizabeth Cheng

Entrance to the quad includes both stairs and an accessible ramp.

Epic Staff

Ableism is defined as “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” Personal and systemic ableism is frequently witnessed throughout most high schools, including Lynbrook, and needs to be addressed by raising awareness to improve school climate. The Lynbrook community should work to create an inclusive environment for students with disabilities and be more conscious of possible ableist actions in their daily actions and words. 

The formal definition of a disability is a “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” Disabilities can be categorized into eight sub categories, including mobility or physical disabilities, spinal cord disabilities, head injuries, vision disabilities, hearing disabilities, cognitive/learning disabilities, psychological disorders and invisible disabilities. 

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, later changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990, was enacted by Congress in 1975 and protects the rights of people with disabilities to receive an education. Disabilities affect 14.4% of all students, and in the 2018-19 school year, 7.5 million children with disabilities in the U.S. received education tailored to their individual needs. 

Lynbrook has done its part in including students with disabilities on campus through programs such as Viking Buddies, designed to create a comfortable environment for all individuals. 

“Inclusion and integration of students of all abilities is mutually beneficial,” junior and Viking Buddies president Lucy Barnes said. “It not only creates these valuable peer relationships with people with disabilities, but it also helps to foster empathy. I think for a lot of the students without disabilities, it’s really important to learn to understand that those around you may perceive things differently than you do.”

The school also has programs such as the Academic Community Transition program that help high school students with moderate to severe learning and behavioral disabilities transition into the community by teaching them life and vocational skills. In addition, Voyager students are students with mild to moderate disabilities who are on a diploma track in which they earn their high school diploma during the graduation ceremony in their senior year.

Students and staff should continue to be respectful and inclusive toward individuals with disabilities. They should allow greater flexibility to students with disabilities to accommodate them and create a more accepting environment. Students with disabilities should not be treated as helpless, but rather differently-abled and just as capable of achieving success. One area where general education high school students often fall short in interactions with students with special needs is by using a cold or mocking tone when referring to their differently abled peers. 

“I see the way people treat these students, and you can see the tone difference,” Barnes said.  “There are so many different types of strengths, and I feel like people don’t appreciate that enough. It comes down to being kind and having integrity.”

Students must consciously work to not normalize jokes about mental disabilities and psychological disorders. Jokes involving the r-word or light-hearted references to anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD and other disorders can be extremely harmful toward individuals with these disabilities. In addition, teachers and administration should place an emphasis on shutting down this behavior by educating students about empathy and how to interact with students with special needs through platforms like Advisory. Modules presented during the advisory period are an effective way to educate a large number of students at once. 

Viking Buddies aims to provide institutionalized opportunities for general education students to be able to make friends with students with special needs. Barnes believes that the most important step toward inclusion is eliminating separation by providing opportunities for interactions between differently abled students. 

“I like the [Viking Buddies] dances,” ACT student Russel Cheung said. “They’re fun because there’s food and friends.” 

ASB should also maintain communication with the Special Education Department in order to extend invitations for school-wide events to all students. For example, ASB could reach out to ACT students by sending Legislative Representatives to their classrooms. Certain barriers, such as transportation to events, can limit these opportunities, but through collaborations of ASB and the Special Education Department, Lynbrook should be able to plan accessible events for ACT students, or at the very least, use its platform to promote existing inclusion programs. Rather than relying on Viking Buddies to hold events for ACT students, ASB should work to include them into pre-existing school-wide activities. 

Individual students can also take it upon themselves to reach out to ACT students, either as part of initiatives such as Viking Buddies or on their own time.

“We’re sort of in our own little space here,” ACT teacher Dave Herz said. “We don’t really get that much interaction with General Education students, but even just a ‘Hello’ or ‘Have a great day’ would be really useful for these students and it would be a great first step. The more people that interact with students with disabilities the more comfortable they become.”

The cheer team has already provided the opportunity for students with disabilities to participate, and opportunities like these are great ways to invite members of these groups into the larger Lynbrook community. 

Lynbrook has created a comfortable environment for students with physical disabilities through the various installations of ramps, buttons and elevators. While Lynbrook’s older buildings do not have some of the state-of-the-art accessibility features, all of the new construction projects contain them. The entrance to the quad and gym both have ramps, the dance studio has an elevator, the GSS and gym have buttons for the doors and the new two-story science building will have an elevator. In addition, all classrooms, with the exception of those in the science wing, have desks and chairs separate, as opposed to a connected desk and chair. Chairs that are separate from the desks make it easier for students with physical disabilities to be comfortable in the classroom.   

Teachers should continue to be mindful of students with psychological disorders that may affect their learning. Students with differing disabilities may have difficulty presenting in front of the class, completing work on time and working with others. Students with special needs or learning disabilities each have an Individualized Education Plan developed by their team to inform teachers of their individual goals and needs or a 504 plan that provides accommodations to help them succeed in the classroom. An IEP is available for students in grades kindergarten through 12, and 504 plans are available for students in grades kindergarten through college. Some teachers have also provided forms to their classes at the beginning of the year asking students to offer insight on their concerns and needs for the course. Forms like these are a good way to create a low-stress situation for a student to be honest about any needs they may have. 

Although Lynbrook is a largely welcoming and accepting environment for students with disabilities, there is always more to be done. All members of the school community should work toward creating a more accepting and safe environment. 

*the Epic voted 36-0 in favor of this stance.