'Born This Way' Highlights Importance of Inclusive Education

Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

In the U.S., schools were not required to provide special education until 1975. Today, the fight for inclusive education remains a constant battle for parents and students. “Born This Way,” a reality television show that stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome, shines the spotlight on the importance of inclusive education and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.

Ensuring children with disabilities receive the education and training they need to succeed is vitally important. Nationally, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school each year compared to 86 percent of student without disabilities. That means there is a 21-point gap in outcomes. Furthermore, only 7 percent of students with disabilities graduate college. As such, educators have a critical role to play in empowering more students with disabilities to succeed.

Teachers are important partners in the efforts to overcome bias, barriers and stigmas by promoting and implementing best practices in the classroom. In coordination with partners, RespectAbility has released a lengthy educational guide featuring resources to teach students about disability and assist students with disabilities to succeed, as well as recommended reading for both children and adults.

The upcoming episode of “Born This Way” on June 27, 2017 delves into the implementation of an IEP, which is integral for children with disabilities. An IEP is a formal plan for students who have been identified to need accommodations specific to their individual disability in the public school system. In addition to accommodations, the classroom can be tailored within a general classroom, a smaller group or one-on-one instruction.

Creating IEPs can be a daunting challenge for parents and often stressful as there is much to consider when determining the education of a child. “Born This Way” has highlighted the strenuous task of creating an IEP for the first time, but also shows the satisfaction of having one in place. Amy, the mother of new cast member Rocco, a child with Down syndrome, describes it as “an emotional rollercoaster” but she and her husband “believe that full inclusion is best for our son.”

Parents are integral to ensuring the IEP covers the needs of the student. An IEP meeting also will include general education teachers, an administrator, a special education teacher and potentially a psychologist. The first step in initiating the IEP process is through a Pre-Referral process where a student’s areas of opportunity are identified. The IEP determines goals for the child, as well as the child’s strengths, needs and performance level.

“Born This Way,” which recently won an Emmy for being the best reality show on TV today, is not an ordinary reality show. It stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome. During season 3, episodes have tackled complex issues such as self-determination for people with disabilities in healthcare choices, the lack of employment opportunities for all people with disabilities and sex education for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The episode will air on Tuesday, June 27 at 10 PM ET/9c on A&E Network. Join RespectAbility as we live tweet using #BornThisWay.

RespectAbility Fellow Sneha Dave contributed research to this article.

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