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Volume 22, Number 1
January/February 2006

Eliminating Ableism

An interview with Thomas Hehir


Thomas Hehir is professor of practice and director of the School Leadership Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former director of the U.S. Department of education’s Office of Special Education Programs. In his new book, New Directions in Special Education, Hehir addresses the challenges of eliminating ableism in schools.

What do you mean by the term “ableism”?

Ableism is essentially like racism and sexism and homophobia. It’s a societal prejudice against people with disabilities, some of which is blatant-like when disabled people aren’t ableto attend an event because they use a wheelchair-and some of which is more subtle, such as the desire for disabled people to perform life tasks in the same ways as nondisabled people. In educational practice, this would be reflected in the desire for children with very little vision to read print as opposed to Braille; having deaf children read lips as opposed to signing; or having kids with physical disabilities spend an inordinate amount of time taking physical theraphy so that they might walk-even if it’s just a few stumbling steps-at the expense of taking academic instruction.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

For more information, see New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice, by Thomas Hehir (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2005), 211 pp., $29.95. ISBN 1-891792-61-X.