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Special education has a long and very complex history in the United States. While this course is aimed to give coaches and educators strategies that can be practically applied in a team setting, it is important to start with a basic understanding of the paradigm shifts that have occurred around how individuals with disabilities access educational settings over the last 50 years: from a medical model to a social or cultural model.

Amie Thurber and Joe Bandy explain this difference in their guide Creating Accessible Learning Environments. “Put simply, the medical model tends to focus on addressing the diagnoses of deficiencies and accommodations for a disabled individual, while the social model embraces disability as a difference and focuses on correcting systematic exclusions in institutions based in ableism—discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.” Under the medical model, educators and specialists put the focus on the student and the “deficits” that student had. As pedagogy has evolved, that focus has shifted toward the systems and structures and how to ensure that these environments are set up in a way that is inclusive.

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As an educational community, we have seen institutions start to move away from institutionalizing or separating individuals with disabilities and instead, toward creating educational opportunities that are accessible across all abilities. This philosophical shift is important both to understanding the goals of the strategies that will be outlined in upcoming modules and to underscoring the importance of creating an inclusive space.

Thurber, A. & Bandy, J. (2018). Creating accessible learning environments. Center for teaching. Vanderbilt University.