In education, inclusion refers to students with disabilities or special needs (whether their needs are medical, mental, physical, or psychological) spending most or all of their class time with students in a general education setting – that is, with students who are considered neurotypical or able-bodied. (The phrase “neurotypical” or “neurologically typical” refers to a student who does not have a diagnosis of autism or any other neurological diagnosis.)
The goal of inclusion is to ensure that students with disabilities or special needs are clearly included and engaged within the classroom, and are considered to be an equal and important part of the whole class.
There are many ways you can promote inclusivity and assist students with special needs in the drama classroom, and it can seem overwhelming at first. However, you can start by assessing your drama classroom and seeing how accessible it is. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Look at the overall accessibility of your school. How accessible and inclusive is it in general? What are the accessibility features that your school possesses? Are they up to date? Are there school policies in place for students with special needs? Where do you find this information?
- Find out what your school’s policies are for the safety of students with special needs (e.g. service animals, evacuation procedures, field trip rules and regulations, etc.). Where is this information located? How easy/difficult is it to access?
- Ensure that your classroom and auditorium have the necessary accessibility tools for students who use wheelchairs or walkers, such as ramps, lifts, or elevators. Look closely to see how accessible the facilities truly are – for example, where is the nearest accessible washroom? Would a student using a wheelchair be able to reach the whiteboard or a bookshelf? Can your student’s wheelchair or walker fit through all the doorways and entryways into/out of the theatre and on/off the stage?
- Designate a quiet area for students with sensory concerns who may need to relax or decompress during a high-energy or over-stimulating exercise or theatre game. How would you keep this area clean and clear for use? How might you keep other students from using this area as a hangout space?
- Find out if your student would benefit from an aide, assistant, or interpreter. How would this person be most helpful in your drama class?
- Find out if your school allows service animals and if your student might benefit from one.
- Post class syllabuses, scripts, rehearsal schedules, and classroom rules/policies ahead of time in a specific area in your classroom (such as a bulletin board clearly marked for this purpose) where these important files can be posted and referred to. This way, students can know what to expect during class/rehearsal and can plan accordingly.
- As well, a visual calendar and/or visual schedule can be useful to indicate to students what the plan for that day’s class is.
- Encourage students with special needs to advocate for themselves and ask for what they need to succeed. However, they may need your assistance and guidance in that area. Be sure to check in with your student privately to see if there is anything they need help with.
Every student is different. Any student with special needs is going to have different abilities and different things they can and cannot do. We can’t possibly predict what students you will have in your classroom and what diagnoses they might have. However, with some planning ahead and awareness of the accessibility of your classroom, you can be better prepared to help all your students succeed, regardless of diagnosis.Click here for a free checklist to help you assess the accessibility of your classroom.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.
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