Inclusive Teaching for Students with a Disability

Written by Brent Loomes

How to Teach Students with a Disability in an Inclusive Classroom

Teaching students with a disability requires the use of an inclusive classroom. This is a place where students' different needs are assessed and met with the provision of accommodations. In this guide, we're going to address what qualifies as a disability, what inclusive teaching is, the benefits of inclusive teaching, and the best strategies to use for effective inclusive teaching.

Students with a Disability

Students with a disability are those students who have particular needs that arise from their unique situation. These students require a method of teaching that takes into account their individual needs. In the past, they were taught in classrooms that did not include students without disabilities. This created stigma and was not an efficient teaching method because students with disabilities do not need segregation to learn effectively. Most often than not, their learning abilities are the same as those of non-disabled students, and they only require an adjustment to be able to fully participate in the classroom.

Because ''disabled '' individuals are often defined by what they are restricted from doing, families of students with a disability may have a hard time navigating the early years of their children's education. However, as teachers, you'll be able to use particular methods to make their experience easier and richer as the child grows up.

The key takeaway here is that the term ''disabled'' is exceedingly broad. Every student with a disability is unique and so is the manner in which they should be taught. In the next paragraphs, we'll be taking a look at the different types of issues that students with a disability experience. There is a wide range of issues that fall under the umbrella of ''disabled.''

Behavioral Disorders and Disabilities

Some behavioral disabilities and disorders include:

  • Tourette's syndrome
  • ADHD
  • Fetal alcohol disorder

These all have in common the fact that traditional teaching and discipline do not work well with these students. These students are also more risk-prone in school and require accommodations that will reduce the risk to themselves and others.

Medical Disorders and Disabilities

Medical conditions that could result in the diagnosis of a disorder or disability include:

  • Heart defects
  • Cancers
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Food allergies

These conditions all require adjustments to work around hospitalizations, testing, and resulting disabilities. As a teacher, you'll need to establish a support system so that your students with medical conditions do not have medical crises while in your care.

Developmental Disorders and Disabilities

These conditions affect the development of the child and how they'll be able to learn once they go to school. They include:

  • Autism
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Down's syndrome

Making accommodations for these conditions often includes being able to access therapy and special services so, as the teacher, you'll need to ensure access to these services for these students.

Mental Health Disorders and Disabilities

These conditions need teams of professionals to diagnose and manage. They include:

  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Anxiety

These students are often in therapy and need to take medication. As their teacher, you'll need to keep an eye out for symptoms and be aware of their individual needs.

Learning Disorders

Learning disorders can lead students to struggle with paying attention in class and completing their work regardless of their abilities. They include:

  • Dyslexia
  • Audio processing disorder
  • Dyscalculia

To effectively teach these students, you'll have to come up with particular specialized strategies that avoid affecting their self-esteem and mental wellness.

In all of the above situations, you'll need to work closely with parents. Fortunately, parents of disabled students are often their best advocates and want to be actively involved in their education.

What Is Inclusive Teaching: The Inclusive Classroom

According to Dr. Bryan Dewsbury, inclusive teaching is ''a philosophy of teaching that provides equal opportunities for all students to have a successful learning experience.'' It is centered on four elements:

  • Students: teachers need to both know their students and the ways their needs and backgrounds affect how they learn and their behavior in the classroom.
  • Teachers: teachers also need to be self-reflective and understand how their own background affects their teaching methods.
  • Content: teachers should put out content that is able to reflect the different backgrounds of all the students in the classroom.
  • Teaching: teachers should use adequate methods that take into account the particular needs of individual students.

So, what is an inclusive classroom? It's essentially a partnership between a general education teacher and a special education teacher (and sometimes other professionals) to equally engage and teach students with disabilities and those without in the same classroom. This model supports the various needs of students—be they academic, emotional, social, or communication-related—equally. This means that both teachers collaborate together to meet the competing needs of all students in an equitable way, avoiding all disruptions. Whether the teachers work in tandem or special education teachers make intermittent visits to check on the progress and accommodations of their students, the goal of an inclusive classroom is to provide equal access to education for all students.

Benefits of Inclusive Teaching

We can talk about the benefits of inclusive teaching to students with disabilities; however, that would leave out the fact that all children benefit from inclusive teaching. Here's why:

  • Students have more opportunities to develop friendships.
  • Students' social networks grow larger.
  • Students develop respect for all their peers.
  • Students can learn from sharing with each other.
  • Academic expectations are higher.
  • Students are safer when they're not isolated.
  • Students gain access to school resources.
  • Students learn to collaborate and participate.
  • The school environment is welcoming and positive.
  • Students can expand their inclusion outside of the classroom.
  • Students get engaged by course materials that they can connect with.

Inclusive teaching also benefits teachers. This happens because teachers who engage in inclusive teaching are able to:

  • Share one vision.
  • Collaborate with both other staff and parents.
  • Pursue professional development.
  • Understand and use methods that create beneficial changes.
  • Be prepared to address and discuss controversies as they occur.
  • Use evidence-based decision-making.

Special Education Certification

So, what do you have to be to become certified as a special education teacher? Here, we're looking at how you can become a special education teacher. Some of the steps to obtain this certification are similar to the steps required to become a teacher. In short, here are the requirements for certification:

  • Having at least a bachelor's degree
  • Submitting your transcripts to the American Board
  • Passing a background check
  • Taking and passing the Professional Teaching Knowledge test
  • Taking and passing the American Board Special Education test
  • Taking and passing the American Board Elementary Education test

The three tests are all computerized and must be taken at a Pearson VUE center. They should be taken in the sequence specified above. Once all three of these tests are completed successfully, you'll receive your Special Education certification and be able to work as a special education teacher. Different states have different requirements when it comes to teaching, so make sure to understand your state's requirements.

Special Education Facts

Now that we learned how you can be certified to become a special education teacher, let's look at some facts about special education. In short, special education is a form of teaching that is specially designed to cover the needs of a student who has a form of disability at no extra cost. Special education can be conducted in the classroom, at home, in special institutions, and in hospitals, among other settings. Students who do not have visible disabilities can also be helped by this form of education.

There are two main methods that are used to help students with disabilities:

  • The response to intervention method: this is used as early intervention.
  • The discrepancy method: this is used when teachers notice a pattern in the students' abilities to successfully complete assignments that is below what should be expected.

Once these methods are applied, accommodations and adjustments can be made to help the student.

Sometimes, students who have a disability get enrolled in special schools. This usually happens when a student's learning difficulties are extreme or are accompanied by behavior issues and physical disabilities. These students, unfortunately, cannot benefit from an inclusive classroom because they do not attend mainstream schools.

Some criticisms of special education are that it may provide a less than ideal curriculum. Moreover, when students with a disability are attending classes with students that have educational needs that are not caused by a disability, also known as ''at-risk students,'' their educational progress can slow down, according to critics.

Inclusive Teaching Strategies

The strategies used to teach while considering the needs of all students, regardless of their background, abilities, or learning modalities are known as inclusive teaching strategies. They allow students to feel included and valued in the classroom. Some of the main strategies include:

1. Using universal design: this gives every single student the opportunity to learn according to their own learning style. The concept has three main principles: representation (what we learn), action and expression (how we learn), and engagement (why we learn). However, teachers should use their own experience when applying these principles; they do not apply in every situation.

2. Using various formats to deliver instruction: some students are visual learners, while others do well when they're taught with the use of text or through oral presentation. Some students do best when all three are combined. Teachers need to keep this into account when dealing with both students with a disability and the rest of the classroom. Likewise, students should be encouraged to use the means to express themselves that best serves them. Some students do well when writing an essay, while others express themselves through art or video software, among others. These media can be included in instruction in addition to the traditional methods, such as lectures.

3. Having a behavior management plan: this can prevent behavior that can disrupt not just the teacher's work, but other students as well. With a behavior management plan, you can be prepared when a student feels frustrated or causes disruption for different reasons. Make sure that the consequences of different behavior are commensurate with the disruptive behavior. Also, share this plan with parents. Types of plans that can be used include a group plan or an individual plan. As long as they are centered on positive reinforcements, these plans work in all circumstances.

4. Becoming familiar with students' IEPs and 504s: These legally require you to provide a student who has one with adjustments and accommodations. The difference between them is that an IEP includes additional services that are not provided in the classroom. Teachers can work with counselors and special education teachers to understand the specific needs outlined in the IEP or 504. The purpose is to allow the student to be able to learn in the classroom alongside traditional students.

Below, we'll look at the specific components of inclusive teaching and how they play into these strategies.


The setting of an inclusive classroom needs to address some very important issues that we'll look at below:

  • Ensure that students with a disability are efficiently taught in the same classroom that they would attend if they didn't have a disability.
  • When discussing settings for students with a disability, always consider the general education classroom that they'll be a part of.
  • Ensure that both non-disabled and disabled students are using comparable learning facilities.
  • Ensure that IEP-holders' learning settings outside the classroom are in the appropriate areas as related to the students' grade and age.
  • Make sure that your classroom is organized so as to provide access for students with a disability.
  • Ensure that your classroom environment is open, inviting, and inclusive of all students.
  • When making decisions about disabled students, always put their needs first. Do not use available resources to create labels for them.


Strategies that aim to improve inclusive instruction include collaboration and a continuum of instruction. Let's look at them in more detail:

  • Collaborate with special education teachers and other school staff to have a united vision of all students as ''your students.''
  • Work with and plan alongside special education teachers regularly.
  • Make sure that every member of the teaching team and support staff is knowledgeable about the students' IEPs and 504s.
  • Use research-based teaching methods. Examples include cooperative learning, multi-level teaching, and activity-based teaching.
  • Avoid using lecture-based teaching. Instead, use differentiated teaching strategies that take into account the needs of all students.
  • Make sure that you understand the difference between adjustments and accommodations, especially where IEPs are concerned.
  • Work with other members of the behavioral support system to ensure that it covers all students.
  • Make your voice heard and ask for support when you need technology, resources, and materials that can help you support all your students.

Support and Accommodation

Support and accommodation are the core of inclusive teaching. They make it possible for students with a disability to participate in the classroom and enable their equal chances to be included in the learning process. Let's take a look at the types of support and accommodations that can be provided:

  • Provide external support ahead of teaching a class to ensure that students understand all concepts.
  • Work with occupational and physical therapists and speech pathologists in the classroom whenever needed.
  • Use peer support, collaborative teaching, and short-term support from other teachers and teacher assistants to give disabled students support.
  • Engage all students in work that supports your teaching objectives.
  • Only have students with a disability leave the classroom for activities and support that you cannot provide in the classroom.
  • Use positive statements and post your objectives, rules, and activities for the classroom.
  • Use several different technologies, strategies, and materials to support learning.
  • Do not use supports that would promote stigma associated with disabled students. Encourage students to work together.
  • Give assignments that maintain order and are meaningful.
  • Arrange your classroom to support learning and positive behaviors. Make sure that students can form small groups with minimal transition time.

The Three Rs

To simplify the approach to inclusive teaching strategies, it is sometimes easier to use the ''three Rs.'' These are respect, responsibility, and relationships and are easier to use than checklists, observations, and standards.


As we previously mentioned, respect is crucial for an inclusive classroom and inclusive teaching. This includes respect for the students. Students should be defined by their names or nicknames of their choice and their personalities and qualities, rather than scores. They all have their talents that are special to them, such as being a talented painter or a plucky athlete. Learning to respect everyone for their own strengths is the key to inclusion.


Respect engenders responsibility. Students become responsible for their own behavior in the classroom. They understand that they are part of a team, alongside the teacher and their parents. All these parties share responsibility for the success of students. As the teacher, you are responsible for providing support and accommodations for your students. You can claim responsibility for their achievements but respect informs you that they are not to blame if they fail. That is part of your responsibility.


When respect and responsibility enter the equation, students can feel accepted by their school community. They can develop relationships and break out of isolation. They connect to teachers, support staff, and other members of the support team. Students can grow through relationships, safe in the knowledge that they are supported, and are able to succeed once they put their heads to it. Throughout this, their needs are always first in the mind of their support team.

Use these three Rs to drive your inclusive teaching strategy and promote inclusion in all your work as a teacher.

Distance Learning

Finally, let's take a look at how distance learning works in the context of the inclusive classroom and students with disabilities. Many students find distance-learning difficult to manage, but none do so more than students with a disability because of their attention, social, learning, and emotional needs. So, what can you do if you're currently struggling to teach your students on Zoom?

  • Focus on the relationship, rather than on teaching. While this may sound like you're adding to your workload because you only have that much time to get through the curriculum, it is crucial that you don't ignore the relationship you have with your students. This is because of the high stress associated with distance learning. Use social-emotional learning, which will also improve the academics of your students. This will allow you to provide more support to those students that are struggling without the personalized help that can be provided in the classroom.
  • Provide students with breakout rooms. You can do this on Zoom. For example, use individual rooms for students with disabilities to use when they may need extra support from you that they cannot get in the main virtual classroom. If you're still struggling to provide support, you can reach out to your special education teacher or counselor for their suggestions on how to engage your students with a disability.
  • Work as a team. It is important that you not only take advantage of the suggestions and help of your colleagues but also of what the parents can suggest. They are the ones who see their child struggle with distance learning at home and will often have insights that you don't have access to otherwise. Listen to their suggestions and let them participate as members of the team to come up with the best plans for their children's instruction.

We hope you enjoyed learning more about how to teach students with a disability in an inclusive classroom and are better armed to start using the above-mentioned strategies to implement inclusion and better help your students. Feel free to come up with and share your own suggestions about how to achieve harmony, diversity, and inclusion in your classroom and prepare your students for their future careers.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you help students with disability?

    To help students with a disability, teachers need to integrate them in an inclusive classroom. This classroom provides for the needs of all students, including students with disabilities. To facilitate their integration, accommodations and adjustments can be made.

  • Which word is used for disabled students?

    Disabled students are also known as students with disabilities. These disabilities range from physical disabilities to mental disabilities to learning disabilities and all other forms of disabilities in between.

  • How do you identify students with a disability?

    Usually, you cannot identify students with a disability visually. Most disabled students that are taught in inclusive classrooms have abilities and skills that are identical to those of their peers. Identifying their disability is the role of the parents and teachers, based on testing and medical history, if any.

  • Why is inclusive teaching important?

    Inclusive teaching is important because it is centered around including all students in the classroom, regardless of their status, background, and social status. This ensures that all students have equal chances to access quality education.

All Teacher Certification Exams