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Understanding ableism: A teaching and learning tool for early childhood education practitioners

Silky Sharma and Carol Hamilton

Despite implementation of significant legislation and policy initiatives related to human rights and inclusive practices, children with disabilities can still experience discrimination and exclusion in multiple areas of their lives, including in early childhood education (ECE). Evidence of a gap between policies about inclusion and the reality of exclusionary practices in this educational field has been found. To investigate this issue, researchers have explored how negative attitudes and beliefs can shape the actions of personnel working in New Zealand ECE settings. This article offers a definition of ableism as a concept and a teaching/learning tool. How might ECE educators’ understanding of this term and knowledge of the effects ableism has on practice help them to get past the exclusionary processes research has found? Initial findings from a current doctoral study are included to examine this question. Finally, the authors briefly discuss how wider understandings of ableism within ECE might help transcend the policy–practice divide in ways that are productive in respect of the inclusion of all disabled children in ECE settings.

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