Accommodating Isn't the Same as Inclusion

accommodating isn't inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

Working with students of all different abilities to ensure that they have access to a meaningful Jewish education enables me to revisit my own personal commitment to inclusion over and over again. Over the years I have learned amazing strategies and techniques in adapting curriculum, shaping lessons and accommodating individual students' needs.

But the most significant thing that I have learned is that simply accommodating a student’s needs is not inclusion. Don’t get me wrong, making appropriate accommodations is an essential strategy in working with all students who have unique learning needs. But there’s more to inclusion. 

Let me give you an example:

A class of students is going to break into chevruta (partner) groups to study a Jewish text. A written copy of the text is given to each student. The teacher decides that since this is a discussion-based activity, the text can be read aloud to a student that is blind and she can still fully participate.

What’s wrong with this? 

Put yourself in the scenario. Are you typically the one who says (when something is read aloud), “Let me see that, I missed half of what you said.”?  If so, you are probably a visual learner. (Read more about learning styles.) This is how Braille can function for a student that is blind; it’s her way of “seeing” the text for herself.

accommodating isn't inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block
Here is another example:

Students will be working in groups to explore leadership and community building. The activity relies on students' ability to observe one another as they engage in the task. Adding a listening role to the group for a student who is blind is a reasonable accommodation, but adding that same role to every group is inclusive.

One more:

Making sure there is a chair available for a student who has a physical disability is a reasonable accommodation, but reshaping the activity so that most or even all of the students will sit is inclusive.

Inclusion isn't always easy. Sometimes it takes trial and error. And it takes both intentionality and planning.  But as we learn from Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it." (2:16) 

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