Disability

Aydin Bal is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Professor Bal studies racial disproportionality and capacity building in local education agencies for systemic transformation. His recent research projects aims at developing culturally responsive intervention methodologies for ecologically valid, socially just, and sustainable transformations in schools. As a practitioner, Professor Bal has worked with youth from historically marginalized communities and refugees who experience behavioral difficulties. He is directing a statewide research project, Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Youth from nondominant cultural and linguistic backgrounds are disproportionately exposed to exclusionary and punitive school disciplinary actions (e.g., detention, suspension, and expulsion) and placed in special education for emotional disturbance (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Losen & Gillespie, 2012). The racialization of school discipline has a long history (Children’s Defense Fund, 1975). These disparities hold today, with African American, Latino, and Native American students disproportionally subjected to harsher punishments for less objective reasons such as disrespect, insubordination, or excessive noise (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002; Losen & Orfield, 2012). Racial disproportionality in behavioral outcomes has been a major social justice problem that contributes to unacceptable and detrimental consequences in the lives of nondominant youth, their families and teachers and the society as a whole (Noguera, 2003).

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Adai Tefera’s research focuses on improving educational policies for diverse learners with dis/abilities. She is particularly interested in understanding the socio-historical, political, and cultural dimensions that shape policies and impact learning. A second strand of her research focuses on knowledge mobilization, an emerging field that aims to increase the impact and use of research by utilizing interactive strategies that target wide audiences, including educators, policy makers, community organizers, parents, and students. She is specifically interested in knowledge mobilization efforts that advance equity in education.

Taucia Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a concentration in special education. She is interested in expanding literacy practices for language minority students with learning disabilities. More specifically, her work examines how Latina/o language minority students engage in literacy across in- and out-of-school contexts.

Cueponcaxochitl’s research draws on decolonial and socio-cultural theories to examine Ancestral Computing for environmental, economic and social sustainability. Ancestral Computing for sustainability is an ecosystems approach to solving complex problems by interweaving Ancestral Knowledge Systems and computer science. She is a Xicana scholar activist who applies the interdisciplinary frameworks, coloniality of power and figured worlds, to analyze identity formations and civic engagement across learning environments (formal and informal). Her research informs various areas of work such as foundations, teacher preparation programs, curriculum studies and policy in computer science education.

Sarah Alvarado Díaz is a research assistant for Equity Alliance and a first-year doctoral student in the Learning, Literacies and Technologies program, with a special interest in students who are labeled as English language learners, as students who receive special education services, and in particular, looking at disproportionate numbers of English language learners being referred for special education services or being placed in special education programs.  Prior to coming to ASU as a full-time student she worked as an elementary school teacher in a South Phoenix school for sixteen years, where she worked with first through third grade students, and many years as a dual language teacher, in English and Spanish.  

This blog is written from the perspective of our four voices combined. You will see that the lines between our stories are blurred. Our combined experiences in policy and teaching in diverse settings is weaved into the voice of one person with four intersectional paths of theory and practice. Read more

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Meg Grigal, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts, Boston where she Co-Directs Think College and serves as the Co-Principal Investigator for two national grants: the Administration on Developmental Disabilities funded Consortium for Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities and the Office of Postsecondary Education National Coordinating Center for the Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) Model Demonstration Programs. Dr. Grigal currently conducts research and provides evaluation and technical assistance on exemplary practices for supporting students with disabilities in the community, employment, and postsecondary settings.  She has co-authored two books on college options for students with intellectual disabilities and has conducted and published research in the areas of postsecondary education options, transition planning, families, self-determination, inclusion, and the use of person-centered planning techniques.


Debra Hart is the Director of Education and Transition at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She has over 30 years of experience working with youth with disabilities, their families, faculty, and professionals that support youth in becoming valued members of their community via participation in inclusive secondary and postsecondary education and integrated competitive employment. Currently, she is the Principal Investigator for two national postsecondary education grants. The National Coordinating Center is conducting an evaluation of 27 model postsecondary education initiatives to better understand their policies and practices in different postsecondary education options and their impact on student outcomes. The National Consortium on Postsecondary Education provides training and technical assistance to enhance existing postsecondary education initiatives and to grow the choice of a higher education for youth with intellectual disability nationwide.


Recently, my mother mentioned that my grandmother and my great-grandmother never drove a car. “Really? Why not?” I asked. She replied, “Well it just wasn’t done.” In those days, no one expected a woman to drive a car.

This got me thinking about the reactions we received from people when we first started working on creating college options for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). The most common response was confusion and disbelief: “People with intellectual disabilities do not go to college. It just isn’t done.”

Why is this?

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Liz King is Legislative Director for Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa).  She has worked in this office since 2005, prior to which she taught middle school in Philadelphia with Teach For America for two years.  In her current role she coordinates the Congressman’s legislative agenda and advises him on education, health and social policy.  She is passionately committed to improving access and outcomes in education and to ensuring that all students’ potential is realized.  She is especially excited about the changing American demographics and the potential to bring new thinking and new thinkers to old problems.  Believing that there should always be a strong link between practice and policy, Liz volunteers as a one-on-one tutor and as a classroom volunteer.  She holds a BA in Government and Religion from Wesleyan University and an MS in Elementary Education from St. Joseph’s University.

In 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law, it became official policy of the United States government that all students attending public schools (with the exception of students with the most significant disAbilities) meet grade level standards by the year 2014.  For the first time, the basic expectation most parents of middle class, White, typically abled children have of their neighborhood school now applied to all classrooms, schools and districts without adjusting for race, income, first language, or IEP.  I believe that this is the most important step towards real equity for all students at the federal level since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case desegregated schools in 1954. Read more

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Cean Richard Colcord is a doctoral student pursuing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Special Education. He is also a university teaching and research assistant and a current special education teacher in the Isaac school district. He received concurrent Bachelor’s degrees in special education and human communication and a Master’s degree in educational technology from Arizona State University. His research examines the use of educational technology in special education and the ways in which it can be used to improve access, adequacy, and equity in special education. He is also interested in the stories and voices of children with disabilities, the shielded identities of children with disabilities in online classrooms, school-wide positive behavior supports, and pre-service special education teacher preparation. Mr. Colcord was selected as the 2011-2012 Robert Rutherford Fellow in Special Education and is a member of the American Educational Research Association, Council for Exceptional Children, and the Arizona Technology in Education Alliance. In 2011, Mr. Colcord was selected as a Rodel Exemplary Teacher for his record of extraordinary student achievement in high-poverty schools.

One night around 3:00 am, I woke up to what appeared to be a flashlight beaming in through my bedroom window.  I laid silently as thoughts began floating to consciousness trying to make sense of the light, when I heard our backdoor creaking under the force of something prying at it.  As a twelve year old boy living with my mother, stepfather, and my brother in a under resourced neighborhood in downtown Phoenix I suddenly understood someone was trying to break into our apartment.

I ran quietly into the living room where my parents were sleeping.  I placed my mouth close to my stepfather’s ear and in a rush whispered, “Someone’s trying to break in.”  He jumped up and went toward the back door, and I trailed behind him.  Together we chased the burglar away.  A dark shadow disappeared into the night.

I returned to bed and laid there with my heart beating quickly as my thoughts worked through what had just happened.  My thoughts and my heart beat eventually slowed down as sleep began creeping back over my body, when I suddenly heard a loud POP.

I sat up, looked at my brother, and I fell off the bed onto the floor. Through a fog I recall my stepfather running into my room and him and my brother repeatedly trying to pick me back up. Read more

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