Development of educational services for children with special needs has closely adhered to the trends of the evolutionary history of mankind itself. In the initial stages when the hunting and food gathering man depended on muscular prowess for survival, the lesser able or the disabled were uncaringly abandoned or even deliberately annihilated from among the nomadic throngs. So were the differently-able, in the early phases of organised educational services, disregarded by the great masters like Socrates and Aristotle, or even eliminated by their soldierly Spartan neighbours (Sneed, 2018; McSweeny, & Bendicksen, 2017; Reckase, 2013; Asker, 1997). Later, socio-religious reformations at the thresholds of anno domino brought about compassion to sustain them on charity but not education and training for self-sustenance.

When the food gathering man learnt not only to save for the rainy day but also hoard and amass wealth with which to manipulate men and material around him, then started the dominance of economic elite in the society. At this medieval juncture of human history, education for the differently-abled like its conventional counterpart was available only for the elite among the society, and that too with disabilities that were mild and less-visible, who needed the education to carry out fiscal and administrative functions. Moreover, these efforts were few and far in-between such as those of Pedro Ponce de Leon, Juan Pablo Bonnet, and Jean-Marc Itard among others. These lukewarm beginnings of special education were invigorated by the renaissance of scientific thinking and explosion of knowledge that followed the dark ages. Educationalists of the period probed the possibilities of better, improved methods for catering to special educational needs leading to rebirth of a specialised field of education. The commercialised technological developments that tailed in the name of industrial revolution made education indispensable for human existence and excellence. Economic upheavals and social revolutions of that period for equality and liberty further opened wide the gates of education for all including the differently-able. Abbè de l’Epée in the field of hearing impairment, Louis Braille for visual impairment, and Eduard Seguin and Maria Montessori for intellectual disabilities made pioneering forays. Nevertheless, amidst the wide gates there were small wicket gates to allow the differently-abled learners. That is to say, in spite of specialised instruction being made available for the differently-able, it was still segregated from the mainstreams of education and community (Rose, 2018; Termblay, 2007).

The great wars that broke at the onset of the twentieth-century and the aftermath in the form colossal war disabilities – both on the civilian and military front, lead to persons with disabilities being viewed with an increased sense of belongingness and reverence. This coupled with the contemporaneous rights-based approach to life and livelihood among the united nations, challenged exclusion or discrimination of the differently-able from the mainstreams of education and community (UNESCO, 1960). Imminent envisions for normalisation, and equal opportunities for the differently-able in the field of education led to ventures of integrated education. The mainstreams of education were open to the differently-able. However the onus for continued existence lay entirely on their caregivers and rehabilitators, while the general educators and peers invariably remained indifferent. Nearly half a decade of earnest one-sided pursuits for fruitful integration brought about the conviction that children with special needs are in need of more than equal opportunities to survive and succeed. That is, they may not always behave or perform in typical ways and cannot always be treated on similar terms as their typically developing peers. They require reasonable accommodations founded on the unconditional acceptance and assistance from the mainstream teachers and learners.

The era of inclusive education dawned out of these concerns for providing equitable opportunities for education with extensive involvement of mainstream stakeholders like educators and peers, and through cost-effective means (Dyson, 2001; Reiser, 2001). Moreover, it was declared to the world at the international conference on special education organised at Salamanca in Spain in 1994 under the aegis of UNESCO (1994). The major break off of inclusive education from prior endeavours for educating the differently-able is its emphasis on the responsibility of the mainstream society and schools to adapt themselves with need-based personal and instructional care of children with special needs in their midst. This implies institution of accessible and barrier-free learning environments, executing universal design of learning incorporating differentiated instruction, with the partaking of trained teachers and supportive peers (Vogel, 2016; Kavale, 2002; Thomas, Walker, & Webb, 1998). Such comprehensive implementation of inclusion is said to lead to myriad benefits in terms of healthy growth and development, as well as elevating education and empowerment of the differently-able through egalitarian and economical means (Open University, 2016; UNESCO Institute of Statistics & UNICEF, 2015; DfES, 2001).

Ascher, L. (1997). Review: The eye of the beholder: Deformity and disability in the Greco-roman world by Robert Garland; Dwarfs in ancient Greece by Veronique Dasen; The poetics of old age in Greek epic, lyric, and tragedy by Thomas M. Falkner. The Classical World 90(6) (Jul.-Aug.):443-445.

Department for Education and Skills – DfES (2001). Inclusive Schooling: Children with special educational needs. London, UK: DfES.

Dyson, A. (2001). Special needs as the way to equity: an alternative approach?, Support for Learning, 16(3), 99–104.
Kavale, K. (2002). Mainstreaming to full inclusion: From orthogenesis to pathogenesis of an idea. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 49, 201-214.

McSweeny, M., & Bendiksen, T. (2017). Deformity and disability in ancient Greece. Inquiry and primary source-based lesson plan for course on ancient civilisations in grade level 7. Retrieved 9 March, 2019 in Library of Congress:
Reckase, W. (2013, May 15). Disability in ancient Rome. Retrieved March 9, 2019, from Rooted in Rights:

Rieser, R. (2001). The struggle for inclusion: The growth of a movement. In BARTON, L. (Ed.) Disability,, politics and struggle for change. London, UK: David Fulton.

Rose, R. (2018). To understand inclusion, we must first examine the causes of exclusion. Presented at the International Conference on Challenging Inclusion – ICCE 2018, 30th January to 2nd February, Chennai, India.

Sneed, D. (2018). The lifecycle of disability in ancient Greece. Peer reviewed dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology to the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Open University (2016). Book 1 ‘Inclusive education: Knowing what we mean’, E848 course on Researching inclusive education: Values into practice. Milton Keynes, UK: The Open University, United Kingdom.

Thomas, G., Walker, D. & Webb, G., (1998). The making of the inclusive school. New York, NY: Routledge.

Tremblay, P. (2007). Special needs education basis: Historical and conceptual approach. Retrieved 27 September, 2019 from History_Inclusive_Education.

UNESCO Institute of Statistics & UNICEF (2015). As cited in Rose, R. (2018). To understand inclusion, we must first examine the causes of exclusion. Presented at the International Conference on Challenging Inclusion – ICCE 2018, 30th January to 2nd February, Chennai, India.

United Nations Scientific, Education and Cultural Organisation – UNESCO (1960). Convention against discrimination in education. Paris, France: UNESCO.

United Nations Scientific, Education and Cultural Organisation – UNESCO (1994). The Salamanca statement and framework for action on special needs education. Paris, France: UNESCO.

Vogel, K. (2016). Effective strategies for inclusive classroom. Retrieved 15 March, 2019 from KQED Education:

Prof. Malar G
All India Institute of Speech and Hearing

Share Now