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New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice Harvard Graduate School of Education


Negative attitudes and discrimination toward students with disabilities continues to produce challenges in special education, according to a new book by HGSE Professor Thomas Hehir.

Hehir, director of HGSE's School Leadership Program, examines these debates and the roots of ableism, a form of discrimination against people with disabilities, in his book, New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice. The book, based on Hehir's article, "Eliminating Ableism in Education," published in the Harvard Educational Review, further examines the ways cultural attitudes about disability systematically distort the education of children with special needs.

Hehir assesses recent trends in special education policy, particularly the shift of emphasis from compliance to outcomes, and discusses in depth the successes and limitations of the inclusion movement. He also investigates the impact of standards-based reforms on children with disabilities along with the promise of universal design for learning.

Drawing on the personal narratives of successful adults with disabilities, Hehir outlines principles for decision-making about special education at every level, from the family to the classroom, school, and district, as well as recommendations for state and federal policy.

Hehir brings the perspective of a scholar, practitioner, and policymaker to his book. From 1983 to 1987, he served as director of special education for the Boston Public Schools. He also directed the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education from 1993 to 1999. In this role he played an important part in the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees access to public education for children with disabilities.


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