How Did You Get Here?

How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard

Thomas Hehir and Laura A. Schifter, Foreword by David H. Rose, Conclusion by Wendy S. Harbour
Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-783-5
paper, 264 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-781-1
Price: 35.00

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When their children were young, several parents interviewed in this book were told “you can’t expect much from your child.” As they got older, the kids themselves often heard the same thing: that as children with disabilities, academic success would be elusive, if not impossible, for them.
How Did You Get Here? clearly refutes these common, destructive assumptions. It chronicles the educational experiences—from early childhood through college—of sixteen students with disabilities and their paths to personal and academic success at Harvard University. The book explores common themes in their lives—including educational strategies, technologies, and undaunted intellectual ambitions—as well as the crucial roles played by parents, teachers, and other professionals. Above all, it provides a clear and candid account—in the voices of the students themselves—of what it takes to grapple effectively with the many challenges facing young people with disabilities.
A compelling and practical book, How Did You Get Here? offers clear accounts not only of the challenges and biases facing young disabled students, but also of the opportunities they found, and created, on the way to academic and personal success.


Hehir, Schifter, and Harbour weave together sixteen inspiring stories into a single narrative with a powerful message: with the right expectations, accommodations, and support, the potential of students with disabilities is boundless. This book is a stirring reminder of our responsibility to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn, succeed, and find fulfillment in their lives.” — James E. Ryan, Charles William Eliot Professor of Education and dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Tom Hehir has delved inside the disability experience to break down the stereotypes that all too often trap people with disabilities and deny them the opportunity to pursue their inherent potential. This book is a must-read for educators, parents, and students with disabilities throughout America. — Marca Bristo, President and CEO, Access Living

I cannot exaggerate how much this book resonated with me and with my experience working with students with disabilities. It is a book of stories embodying challenges and ultimate successes in a field that too often stops with stories about challenges. It should inspire and it should teach. All educators should read it. — Andres A. Alonso, professor of practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and former CEO, Baltimore Public Schools

All too often the world limits the academic opportunities afforded individuals with disabilities, and thus imposes a ceiling on what students with disabilities are able to accomplish. This timely volume celebrates the world of the possible by illustrating the impact that abolishing the ceilings makes achievable. — Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard is an inspiring must-read for all teachers, teacher candidates, administrators, and other professionals serving exceptional students, as it instills the important framework of Universal Design for Learning, self-determination, and other effective strategies for inspiring students with diverse disabilities. — Su-Je Cho & Ariane Rawanduzy, Teachers College Record

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About the Authors

Thomas Hehir, EdD, is the Silvana and Christopher Pascucci Professor of Practice in Learning Differences at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs from 1993 to 1999, Hehir was responsible for federal leadership in implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and played a leading role in developing the Clinton administration’s proposal for the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA. In 1990, Hehir was associate superintendent for the Chicago Public Schools, where he implemented major changes in the special education service delivery system, enabling Chicago to reach significantly higher levels of compliance with IDEA and resulting in the eventual removal of oversight by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Hehir served in a variety of positions in the Boston Public Schools from 1978 to 1987, including that of director of special education from 1983 to 1987. An advocate for children with disabilities in the education system, he has written extensively on special education. His previous books include Effective Inclusive Schools: Designing Successful Schoolwide Programs (Jossey-Bass), New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice (Harvard Education Press), and Special Education at the Century’s End: Evolution of Theory and Practice Since 1970 (Harvard Education Press).

Laura A. Schifter, EdD, is an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research consultant working with states and advocacy organizations to analyze data on the identification, placement, and performance of students with disabilities. Schifter has been published in the journal Exceptional Children and served as a coeditor for A Policy Reader in Universal Design for Learning (Harvard Education Press). She recently graduated with a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she studied issues in special education, specifically patterns and policies related to high school graduation of students with disabilities. Schifter previously worked as a Senior Education and Disability Advisor for George Miller (D-CA) on the Committee on Education and Labor, and she has worked for the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She also taught elementary school in San Francisco. Schifter earned an EdM in Mind, Brain, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BA in American Studies from Amherst College.

Wendy S. Harbour is the Lawrence B. Taishoff Professor of Inclusive Education at Syracuse University, where she teaches courses in disability studies, inclusive K–12 education, and disability in higher education. Her areas of expertise are disability studies in education, universal design for learning, and postsecondary disability services. She recently contributed to Righting Education Wrongs: Disability Studies in Law and Education (Syracuse University Press) and coedited Disability Services and Campus Dynamics: New Directions for Higher Education (Jossey- Bass). She has served on the editorial boards of the Harvard Educational Review and the Journal on Postsecondary Education and Disability, and has been an invited reviewer for Disability Studies Quarterly and Inclusion. Harbour is the executive director of the Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education, a research center that also runs programming for Syracuse University students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She completed her doctorate in education from Harvard University, where she is currently an adjunct lecturer in education. Her master’s degrees in education are from Harvard University and the University of Minnesota.