My Personal Recommendations for Ways to Create an Inclusive Environment for Students With Disabilities by Yujia Ding

Creating an inclusive environment is something that I strive for. Not only do I work towards making sure my classroom is a safe place, but I also work to make sure that if any student wants to perform an experiment or participate in an activity, they can perform that activity as best they can.  

The following recommendations are based on personal observations and experiences as well as, suggestions I’ve received from friends and students with disabilities.  I offer them as a way to start to engage students with disabilities and create a more inclusive learning space:  

Ask your student what works for them instead of assuming. 

  • Each student is different and unique; and every individual that identifies with disabilities is different. Even if they both are visually impaired, for instance, their needs and accommodations are going to differ and as an educator, one should not assume. Rather, speak with the student. Ask the student what their needs are. Ask the student what works for them and what doesn’t.  

Invite your student to participate in how accommodations in the IEP are implemented. 

  • The conversation of accommodations and accessibility is an ongoing one. The conversation doesn’t stop with the first day of school IEP meeting. Even if you get the IEP at the beginning of the school year, ensure that you speak with the student to know what works for your subject and your classroom space. While each teacher receives the same accommodations list for a particular student, the way those accommodations are applied in a biology class versus an English class may not be the same. Make sure that the accommodations are serving the student to support their learning at the same level and rigor as the rest of the class, not to use the accommodations to make the assignment or task easier to accomplish.    

Allow every student a chance to participate in classroom activities. 

  • Don’t assume that your student can or cannot do something because of their disability. Give everyone a chance. Let the students try and try again. I always tell my students that failure is not the end of the road. Failure or the word fail, means “First Attempt In Learning”. I always ensure my students know that they have chances to succeed. As the teacher in the room, I make sure that the students learn from each attempt and are constantly improving. Having a growth mindset not only helps my students with ensuring they are challenging themselves and gaining new skills, it also helps me as the educator learn what works for different needs and then be able to call on those experiences when helping a future student.  

Try new things. 

  • Be innovative. Don’t live inside a box. If the standard or commonly accepted solution doesn’t work for one student, keep working with them to find something that will work. Think creatively.  

Because I have a disability, I realize how important it is to recognize the person first, because it is not the only thing that defines me. I am an individual with a disability, not a disabled individual.  

That is why I always strive to hold my students to the same rigor and expectations regardless of the differences among them. I help them pursue their passions and if modifications are needed along the way to ensure equity, work together as a team to ensure that can happen. 

About the Author

Yujia Ding

Yujia Ding is a STEM educator and disability advocate with a passion for sharing her love of biology with her students. She is currently working on her Doctorate in Education where she seeks to explore how to make STEM accessible to individuals with disabilities. Her personal experiences and her students motivate her to keep fighting every day, despite the challenges she faces. Yujia was the Los Angeles Unified School District Rookie of the Year recipient for the 2020-2021 school year. She is a proud Northwestern University Alumna seeking to leave a positive impact for future generations of scientists. Yujia strives to show her students nothing is impossible, the word itself spells "I'm possible".