What to Understand Before Becoming a Special Education Teacher

As a teacher, you want to make sure that your students are getting the best education possible. But to do this, you need to understand what it takes to become a special education teacher. There is more than meets the eye when it comes to teaching these kids and understanding their needs. This blog post will discuss 5 things that teachers need to know before becoming a special education teacher.

  1. Different types of Special Education

Depending on your state, you may teach kids with different needs and skillsets. In Massachusetts, kids who are deaf, have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disabilities (ID), and other health impairments are all in special education classrooms. The nice thing about this is that you get to know what these kids need academically and neurologically through content knowledge and experience.

  1. Separate Standards

Special education teachers are held to different standards than other teachers. You may not be judged by how many of your kids pass the PARCC or MCAS, but instead, how many of your kids make “mastery” of the standards. This is done by evaluating students on their individualized education program (IEP) goals and objectives that they are working towards.

  1. Different Time Lines

As a special education teacher, you may have different timelines to complete specific tasks. For example, a student with autism may not understand the concept of a timed test and thus may take much longer to complete one. We also work with students on goals/objectives that are taking place over an entire school year, summer vacation included.

  1. Different Curriculum

You may think that you will be teaching fractions and decimals as a special education teacher, however, this is not the case. Some kids with ASD do learn through the use of pictures and symbols, which is where fractions and decimals come in. Other kids need to learn the basics, such as reading and writing.

  1. Different Responsibilities

As a special education teacher, you may have different responsibilities than other teachers when it comes to your students. This includes meeting with parents, paraprofessionals, and administrators to discuss specific concerns and progress; designing and planning lessons for each student following the IEP goals and objectives; implementing differentiated instruction to meet student needs, which may include different accommodations or modifications during assessments.


Preparing for a Disaster When You’re Disabled

Natural and home disasters can be devastating financially and to the health and body of anyone involved. For those with disabilities, disasters can be even more terrifying as it could mean losing the only means to be able to leave if their supplies become inaccessible or damaged while they’re trying to escape. It’s essential to make sure the right preparations are made before a disaster to ensure everyone can get out safely and with their lives and agency intact.

Trusted contacts and essential information

While planning for any disasters, make sure to have lists of all important information readily available for those who may arrive on the scene. These lists should include personal information like name, illnesses, medications, doctors, and any other info that could help medical personnel better provide treatment in the aftermath. These lists should be provided to a group of three to five trusted contacts who will know everything about the disaster escape plan.

These contacts can be friends, family, or coworkers who are trustworthy and will be able to relay any necessary information in an emergency. They should know the entire plan, have a copy of the essential information lists and be able to recognize and provide additional info to medical and emergency personnel.

Emergency supplies and stashes

Those with disabilities live with a wide range of conditions or diseases so it’s important to focus on the aids that best suit the situation. Prepare the necessary supplies that fit the disability, be it vision, hearing, movement, or any other specific effective condition. Emergency stashes should be both general and specific, holding food, water, and medical supplies while also providing backup medication or a spare cane, hearing aid, set of glasses, etc.

An evacuation plan

While crafting an evacuation plan, consider as many escape options and safe route alternatives as possible. Plan who will receive the evacuation plan and where the emergency stash will best be placed. Every disabled person can live a widely different life so an evacuation plan will be specific to the individual and their needs. Consider what will best help to get to safety and prepare thorough emergency supplies that will bandage wounds and ease overwhelming stress.    

This article was originally published on Russ Ewell’s blog.

How to Talk to Kids About Disabilities

Hi! I’m so glad you’re here to read this article about how to talk to kids about disabilities. I know it can be a little scary at first, but the more you practice it, the better you’ll get. Here are some things that have worked for many people with teaching kids with disabilities:

1) Be patient and compassionate:

Kids will be curious, and it’s your job as a parent or teacher to help them understand.

-Let the child come up with their own questions for you instead of trying to answer everything on the spot. That way, they can learn things at their own pace that works best for them. If they don’t ask you any questions, that’s okay! You can always bring it up yourself or just let them know they’re welcome to talk to you about anything.

-Reassurance is essential too. If a child asks if their classmate has cancer and the answer is yes, reassure them that the classmate will be okay.

-Sometimes, kids with disabilities need extra help, but it’s crucial for them to be still treated as just ordinary people and not some “special” kid who requires special treatment from everyone else. They want to do things on their own too!

2) Understand what triggers your child’s anxiety or fears related to disability:

-Sometimes, it’s hard for kids to learn about disabilities because they may be scared of what might happen if something similar were to ever happen to them. For instance, if your child is afraid of getting leukemia like their cancer friend, talk with them and see where that fear comes from. Sometimes talking through fears can help ease the worry.

3) Don’t underestimate the impact of your words on children- they will listen intently and soak up everything that is said:

-This can be super scary, but it’s also awesome at the same time. Kids are really wise and will listen to everything you say about disabilities because they want to learn more! They may even ask questions that seem a little off or strange just because they’re curious.

4) Make sure any accommodations are well documented in writing- this will make communicating easier later when working with teachers, therapists, etc.

-You can try to communicate accommodations verbally, but sometimes that doesn’t work out too well (especially if the teacher is new). Having written documentation means you’ll always be prepared! Even if your child only needs accommodation for one day at school, having them in writing means you have proof that it’s necessary.

-I also recommend keeping track of when your child needs accommodations, so they don’t need to keep explaining themselves every time or feel bad about asking for help. You can use something like a calendar on your phone or computer to note down the date and what kind of accommodation your child needs. That way, you can easily show it to an authority figure if necessary, and they’ll know what’s going on right away!

This article was originally published on Russ Ewell’s blog.

STEM Career Paths for People With Developmental Disabilities

Employment opportunities in STEM fields grow rapidly, but the number of individuals gaining a degree in the fields is still low. It is even lower among students with disabilities. The low numbers create a need to develop more STEM career paths for people with developmental disabilities.

The Pacific Alliance Effort

National Science Foundation runs one of the initiatives to increase the number of students living with disabilities that explore, transition, and succeed in STEM careers. It funds The Pacific Alliance, whose staff supports disability-related, academic, self-empowerment/exploration, and employment barriers for students. The staff members work with students with disabilities at various academic levels whether they are in the STEM pipeline, not yet in, or still undecided.

The Pacific Alliance has four teams called Communities of Practice at local college campuses. The teams have people who share an interest or concern. They collectively engage in activities supporting the education and employment of students with disabilities in the STEM fields.

YolBe Initiative

Chicago-based YolBe(Your Life Only Better) is another organization that supports STEM career paths for people with developmental disabilities. It is a Chicago-based software company and a career networking platform.

The program introduces youth of color with developmental and intellectual disabilities to STEM careers. Participating youth get real-life experience on how it is like to work in a STEM field. Young learners aged 16-24 years participate in online soft skills training lasting eight weeks. Their coaches are Ph.D. candidates. They teach and guide learners to practice with peers on these modules:

  • Communication
  • Networking
  • Teamwork
  • Professionalism

The learners end with a YolBe′s four-week paid internship.

Equal Access internships, according to YolBe CEO David Douglas, were designed to serve those with disabilities. Douglas adds that “Equal Access is a marketplace for organizations serving a population with disability and employers interested in hiring individuals with a disability.”

YolBe offered online internships to increase flexibility and accessibility when marking its second year. Anirudh Paidipally, a 19 year who likes coding, was one of the participants. Paidipally is a Schaumburg resident on the autism spectrum but like HTML. He spent a summer working on code with YolBe through its website and app.

His father Bhaskar revealed Paidipally is always working on the computer while at home. “He is comfortable when sitting on his couch and table but gets anxiety when he goes somewhere else,” said Bhaskar. The internship helped Paidipally as his father works on his habit of freezing when he sees strangers or new situations.

YolBe team is focused on taking more STEM opportunities to the marginalized communities, from training to jobs. The intention is to provide real-life work experience to bridge a gap in information and skills.

This article was originally published on Russ Ewell’s blog.

Teaching Children About Inclusion

One of the most important lessons you will ever teach your child is about inclusion. It’s crucial that your child learns about tolerance and diversity in the world. They need to understand that others may be different than them, but they are just as special.

If your child says they don’t want to invite a certain friend to their party because they may act weird, dig for the real concern. You can explain to your child that just because a person may act differently doesn’t mean they are “weird.” You can remind your child that they don’t need to focus on one person at the party. It’s important that they pay attention to everyone equally at the party. They should quickly learn that including everyone will make each person feel special.

Children should grow up to be inclusive from a young age. They shouldn’t have to learn this value later in life. They should learn that everyone is unique.

Always encourage your child to include other people with disabilities. Even if the child cannot play the same as your child, it’s important to engage with them. They can make up games or change their type of play to include everyone., to play.

Teach your child to always treat others the way they want to be treated. It’s a traditional saying, but it rings true just as much today as a thousand years ago. Tell them to try to step into the other person’s shoes. Treat that person with respect and dignity, the way they would want to be treated.

Never label a child that has special needs. Tell your child to never say “the kid that has hearing aids” or “the one that is in a wheelchair.” This only points out differences. It’s important to see past these disabilities to the person’s core. Even if they don’t notice the difference, it’s important they learn not to label them, even if it is on accident.

Tell your child how special they are as a person. They should understand that if a child with special needs is belittling them, they don’t get special treatment just because they have a disability. Everyone is on an equal playing field and should be treated special.

Originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Great Books Written by People with Disabilities

While it is of the utmost importance to recognize the existence of disabilities and the absolute need for accessibility and representation, it is also important to take the time to celebrate the achievements of individuals who have disabilities. 

One major controversy among the disabled community is the lack of true representation on a number of levels. For instance, all too often non-disabled actors and actresses are cast to play disabled characters while actual disabled actors are left disappointed and struggling to find work. The lack of representation in the disabled community is nothing new. It wasn’t until 1988 that Gallaudet University (A school for the deaf) had it’s first deaf president, and it was only after the students protested and fought to see themselves reflected in leadership.

With these common representation issues in mind, here is a list of great books about disabled characters that were actually written by disabled authors. 

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis is a great work of fiction. It follows an autistic woman named Denise as she navigates the apocalypse. The story takes place in the year 2034 in the Netherlands. The protagonist, Denise tries to find her missing sister while helping her troubled motherboard a spaceship. If you like creative takes on the end of the world, this is a book for you.

Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen

This beautifully done anthology of poetry is written strictly by American poets who live with physical disabilities. The collection explores a number of poetry movements, from language to narrative, and includes writing on blindness, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and many other disabilities. The poets share complex thoughts and feelings surrounding relationships with themselves and their respective disabilities.

No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction by Ellen Painter Dollar

Painter tells her moving life story of living with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a genetic bone disorder. After passing the disorder down to her first child she must decide whether or not to conceive her second child using assisted reproduction to avoid another OI diagnosis in the family. The book does a great job of sharing the many sides of the debate surrounding advanced reproductive technologies.

Originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.


It is very common for people to mistakenly believe that diversity equates to inclusivity when in fact, the two are not synonymous. Inclusion centers on people feeling valued, accepted, and respected while diversity involves a number of different characteristics, such as a person’s gender, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Although companies in every industry have been promoting diversity in the workplace for years it is imperative that human resource departments are ensuring that not only are the work environments diverse but that employees are experiencing a consistent sense of inclusivity.

Diversity is viewed as a wonderful asset to a business’s success and inclusion should be considered just as important. When a business successfully creates an inclusive and diverse workplace employee creativity, collaboration, and overall satisfaction are improved. 

The most common issue within an organization is that while leaders work diligently to build a diverse workforce the company culture is often overlooked and employees are left feeling isolated due to the lack of inclusion. The very first step that management should take to promote inclusion is gaining a clear understanding of how diversity and inclusion differ.

Leaders at authoritative levels should highly consider making mandatory training and getting everyone involved. Not only should inclusion be explained, but strategies should be formed so that employees know how to foster diversity while simultaneously strengthening inclusion.  If a team is already very diverse there should be an astounding amount of opportunities to help improve company culture.

Furthermore, management must listen to their employees. By utilizing focus groups and surveys those in charge can gain insight into the level of engagement among staff and pinpoint any existing issues. It’s a great idea for human resources to create anonymous surveys so that people feel comfortable and safe to speak up and voice their opinions and needs. People should feel heard and be willing to express their concerns without worrying about retribution.

When establishing a plan to build more inclusivity, the goals set should be easily measurable to review at specific dates and times. Check-ins with employees can take place leading up to the goal dates so that if anyone is struggling they receive the proper assistance. Identify people’s shortcomings or difficulties in a healthy manner. FOr instance, if some workers use English as a second language then distribute materials for meetings beforehand so that everyone has an equal opportunity to process information in a timely fashion. This will ensure that everyone will be included in the conversation and capable of giving accurate feedback. This small practice can also benefit people on the team who may be more introverted.

Finally, management should encourage getting people out of their comfort zones from time to time. Although people naturally make habits and stick to what is comfortable, wonderful things can happen when different groups of people get together. Mix things up during collaborations and see how many new perspectives are gained.

Originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.


Being an inclusive leader is one of the most effective ways to help your company succeed. When implemented consistently, inclusivity boosts employee productivity and morale. Inclusive leaders from every sector of business have proven that the approach nurtures an environment of connection, respect, and involvement. Here are five practices to use when you are working towards being a more inclusive leader.

Acknowledge Unconscious Bias

As with personal relationships, you will find that each of your employees has norms, rituals, values, and beliefs that are integrated into every facet of their work. To be an inclusive leader, take note of any biases that you have about your employees as you observe their behaviors. Challenging these thought patterns helps you get to know your employees as real people and unlocks potential for growth and overcoming challenges in your business.

Leave No Rules to Chance

You set the tone and norms for your business, and you need to make sure that your employees are on the same page. To be an inclusive leader, write down rules that reflect how you expect your employees to interact with each other and your customers. Even the most fundamental rules should be clearly written and referred to as needed. In an inclusive work environment, you will bring together people from different backgrounds and cultures that may define what is considered cultural norms outside the workplace. Thriving in an inclusive company means that everyone knows what is expected and follows through on those expectations.

Hold People Accountable

An important practice that is used by inclusive leaders is to hold all staff to the rules and norms that you outline for your business. Even the smallest misstep should be addressed quickly and appropriately. You not only clarify expectations to the individual but also let your staff know that you are willing to maintain an environment that is safe and comfortable for everyone.

Understand Diverse Perspectives

Being a more inclusive leader means that you take the time to consider everyone’s perspective. Culture, gender, race, religious beliefs, and many other socioeconomic factors influence an individual’s perception, thoughts, ideas, and comfort level. Overcome your assumptions that everyone has the same comfort level as you or other staff in any given situation.

Value Differences

Differences in ideas, approaches, beliefs, and other aspects can be the root of conflict within any business environment. Teach yourself and your employees to value differences because they help to define comprehensive strategies and solutions. Model behavior that respects and encourages differences in your company if you want to be an inclusive leader.

Originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.