Building empathy for students with special educational needs through disability awareness
Students with disabilities have come a long way from being considered "handicapped" and being institutionalized, as policies now support full inclusion within neighborhood schools. Inclusion is said to provide greater access to the general curriculum, increase social interactions and create higher expectations for students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). However, inclusion is not without its challenges. As students with SEN transition from one school to another, particularly elementary to high school, the transition can produce new challenges such as bullying and loneliness. This study captured the voice of grade 7 students pre-transition and grade 8 students post-transition to answer the research question: How can the concerns and challenges surrounding student transition contribute to the design of empathy training material for Grade 8 students? A mixed methods Design-Based Research approach was used to design an intervention to promote inclusion and build empathy among neuro-typical grade 8 students towards their peers with Special Educational Needs. The intervention, a Periodic Table of Disabilities, visually presents the disability categories in British Columbia and their prevalence both Provincially and locally. It will be used to promote open communication about special needs, as this may be an important element supporting the successful transition of SEN students from elementary to high school.