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Legislative mandates help all students to succeed physically

An excerpt from Strategies for Inclusion, Second Edition by Lauren Lieberman, PhD, and Cathy Houston-Wilson, PhD

Chapter 1: A Move to Include

Ian is a 5-year-old boy with diplegic cerebral palsy; diplegia is a condition in which the arms are slightly affected and the legs are greatly affected. After attending an inclusive preschool program at a United Cerebral Palsy center for a year, Ian was ready to begin kindergarten in his local school district. He had made great gains in preschool, especially in the motor area, and he could now walk slowly without a walker, and even faster with a walker. At the start of the school year, Ian was assigned a teacher’s aide named Ms. Adams, who had worked with a child with cerebral palsy before and was looking forward to working with Ian.

Preparing for kindergarten was a little scary for Ian, but once he met Ms. Adams he was more comfortable. Ms. Adams and Ian’s mother made sure that the teachers in the school knew about Ian’s disability-as well as his abilities-during a meeting about his individualized education program (IEP). It was decided that Ian would be included in his general physical education class because his skills were adequate for the intended curriculum.

The general physical education teacher, Mrs. Bishop, who attended the meeting, was honest and said that she did not have much experience in teaching children with physical disabilities but was willing to do her best to accommodate Ian. Mrs. Bishop had taught elementary physical education for 13 years and had received support and recognition from parents and administrators for her creativity and encouraging spirit. Mrs. Bishop was assured that she would receive support from an adapted physical education (APE) consultant.

As the school year progressed, the consultant showed Mrs. Bishop how to modify and adapt activities so that Ian could be included successfully in physical education. After a while, Mrs. Bishop began to think of her own strategies and also solicited advice from the students in the class, as well as from Ian, who often had the best suggestions. The children were very supportive and enthusiastic about helping Ian to succeed in physical education. Mrs. Bishop modified some equipment, the pace of some games, and the instructional grouping, and Ian did well. Mrs. Bishop reflected on the experience and concluded that all good teaching is adapted.

The purpose of this chapter is to help readers

  • understand the historical and legislative mandates that have affected the education of students with disabilities,
  • understand physical education placement options available to students with disabilities,
  • become familiar with research on the effectiveness of including students with disabilities in physical education, and
  • understand the roles and responsibilities of the general physical education teacher and the adapted physical education teacher in the education of students with disabilities.

As dramatized in the opening scenario, schools are responsible for planning the intake of students with disabilities. The scenario also illustrates the need for and value of including physical education teachers in preliminary discussions. For example, when Mrs. Bishop described her limited ability and experience in working with students with physical disabilities, she was provided with the assistance of an adapted physical education consultant. Unfortunately, scenarios like this may not be the norm for everyone. Sometimes physical educators are unaware until the first day of school that they will have students with special needs in their classes; these teachers are often left out of the loop in planning for placement of students with disabilities. They often do not even see the student’s individualized education plan, and such lack of information and communication is frustrating for even the most competent and motivated teachers. However, as frustrating as the bureaucracy surrounding school policy and procedures may be, it is important that teachers continue to work to involve themselves in the process. Only through persistence will teachers become fully valued members of the team. Similarly, teachers who involve themselves in the planning and implementation process will be more able to secure the necessary resources and supports to make inclusion a successful experience, both for themselves and for their students with disabilities.

A Historical Perspective

Educating students with disabilities was not always required. In fact, before much attention was paid to the subject, several parent activist groups filed suit on behalf of their children with disabilities who were being denied an education. Two specific landmark lawsuits filed in 1972 in the United States (Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia) set the stage for the passage of several laws that ensured the right to schooling opportunities for all students with disabilities. In both cases, children with disabilities were being denied the right to an education due specifically to their disability. It was determined that excluding children with disabilities from public education violated both the 5th (due process) and the 14th (equal protection under the law) constitutional amendments.


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