Promoting Authentic Inclusive Environments

“Necessary for some, good for all.”

I recently had a unique dining experience at Signs in Toronto. This restaurant employs staff who are deaf, and customers order off the menu using  American Sign Language. The menu and walls display images with gestures that assist customers when ordering.  Signs restaurant is the epitome of the quote, “Necessary for some, good for all.” It is necessary for the wait staff to communicate through sign language to do their jobs however, everyone benefits from a richer dining experience.

My experience at Signs  prompted reflection on our classrooms and schools. Do we provide rich environments that include students learning from their peers with special needs? How can we promote this form of inclusion in our school culture?

These questions must be at the forefront of our curriculum planning. Teachers must purposely plan opportunities to highlight the strengths and peer interactions of our special needs students.  In the article PEERS SUPPORTING AN INCLUSIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE, Toni Riester-Wood highlights the benefits gained by students with and without disabilities in a school climate that facilitates a positive peer to peer culture. Similar to the one at Signs restaurant.

Technology has always been a valuable tool to assisting students with special needs. Thankfully, it is becoming  more affordable, making it more accessible for students. However, it is important that we ensure that the way we use technology promotes inclusion and a culture of positive peer to peer interactions with students that have special needs. Facilitating collaborative learning environments, structuring activities that promote the strengths of all learners and encouraging a culture of diversity are ways that schools can foster an authentic inclusive environment.  My hope is then we will have more businesses like Signs.

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