Fostering Disability Pride in Special Education

July 2023 Disability Pride Month Logo -- rainbow colors

By Sarah DeAngelo, Office of Special Education Programs

July is Disability Pride Month, and in celebration, the Office of Special Education Programs will highlight work being done in the field of special education that celebrates disability pride and promotes positive disability identity for students. Additionally, this July marks the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Jessica Bacon

Dr. Jessica Bacon Assistant Professor, Montclair State University’s Department of Teaching and Learning

Dr. Jessica Bacon, an assistant professor in Montclair State University’s Department of Teaching and Learning, has spent her career advancing the ideas of the importance of disability identity for students in the field of special education. Disability identity is important for students as it can have positive impacts on their self-esteem and coping strategies in the long term (Bogart et al., 2018).

The conviction that underlies her research and teaching is that people with disabilities deserve to have their desires and hopes used to guide professional decision-making, especially in the field of special education.

Bacon’s passion for working alongside self-advocates to improve special education systems began with working at a summer camp run by The Arc where she had her first experience supporting adults with “significant disability” labels.

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in sociology and early childhood education, her passion took her to Syracuse University where she graduated with her master’s in Cultural Foundations of Education & Disability Studies and Ph.D. in special education.

While at Syracuse, Bacon began working with Dr. Steve Taylor at The Center for Human Policy, an organization that focuses its work on disability justice issues including community and educational inclusion, accessible transportation and integrated employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Bacon attributes her passion for this work to her experiences learning from self-advocates.

Bacon’s continued work promotes robust and critical education around disability for both students and teachers. This means promoting practices that foster inclusion and positive disability identity, such as teaching disability history in schools. This also includes promoting practices that work to improve teacher attitudes and critical understanding of disability, like introducing disability studies topics into teacher education programming. Bacon has also conducted research on friendship alongside autistic individuals.

People working in all levels of special education and rehabilitation can foster disability pride.

“The first place we have to start is to just even think about disability as more than a deficit and more than a medical problem. I don’t think we are there for the most part, but there is movement and momentum, and these conversations are starting to happen,” Bacon said.

Bacon also suggested that teachers and schools think critically about the portrayals of disability they are showing to students, and how those portrayals are addressed. She discussed that as the world’s knowledge about disability evolves towards one that deemphasizes medical model and deficit perspectives, there is an increasing need for more resources for teaching concepts related to disability history, pride, and identity in schools, especially ones that show teachers how these concepts can be integrated into what they are already doing in their classrooms.

“Understanding that disability is a minority group that has pride and helping all kids, with and without disabilities, learn these ideals is essential,” Bacon said. “Additionally, it is important to honor that young people with disabilities may have thoughts and opinions about their disability or life that might be different than their parents and teachers.”

Sarah DeAngelo is a Ph.D. student studying special education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their professional interests focus on neurodiversity affirming social supports for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities and fostering disability identity and community in schools.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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