Inclusion of Individuals With Severe Disabilities

Individuals with severe disabilities should be included in schools, communities, employment, and all aspects of life. Though typically recognized as best practice, inclusion for individuals with severe disabilities often remains a challenge as a result of beliefs and practices that continue to promote exclusion. For example, students with severe disabilities that include severe expressive communication disorders are much more likely to be excluded than not from general education settings. The evidence suggests that this is directly related to their lack of spoken language rather than other factors related to physical, cognitive, or linguistic skills. This does not need to be the case.

Increasingly, there are reports of successful inclusion across environments when interprofessional teams, families, and communities work together to insure authentic engagement. The establishment of mutually beneficial reciprocal relationships throughout one’s life is a right that should be afforded to all. The Communication Bill of Rights [PDF] provides a framework from which everyone can work to promote relationships and inclusive opportunities that will help everyone become valued members of the communities in which they live and learn.

Bottom Line: 

Individuals with severe disabilities have a right to opportunities for authentic engagement in schools, communities, employment, and all aspects of life, and we all have a responsibility to make that right a reality. 

Return to the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities (NJC) topic areas list.


The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Journal Inclusion.

Erickson, K. A. & Geist, L. (2016). The profiles of students with significant cognitive disabilities and complex communication needs. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 32(3), 187–197. doi:10.1080/07434618.206.1213312

Shogren, K. A., McCart A. B., & Lyon, K. J., & Sailor, W. S. (2015). All means all: building knowledge for inclusive schoolwide transformation. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 173–191. 

ASHA Corporate Partners