Disability in the classroom: Current trends and impacts on music education


By: Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC, NMT

As a music educator, as well as a board certified music therapist, I thought it might be interesting to jump into some music education research this month for a glance at music educator’s views of individuals with disabilities and the challenges they face in the music classroom.

Mr. Abramo is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. I read this article in 2012 when I was in the middle of my master’s degree and highly interested in how music therapy impacted school districts across the United States. Surprisingly, Mr. Abramo did not mention music therapy in this article. I wrote a letter to the editor of the journal citing that fact and questioning why Mr. Abramo did not identify music therapists as professionals available to music educators. My letter and his response were both printed in the December 2012 edition of the journal.

For this post, however, I would like to give a brief overview of this article for the benefit of those interested Mr. Abramo’s research on the “current trends in disability rights… [and] how society’s view of disability influence the music education of students in need of special education services (Abramo, 2012, p. 39). Mr. Abramo wanted to assist other educators in his field on how to navigate the options available to educators who want to assist their students with disabilities.

In recent months, my posts have been primarily about research studies that included either qualitative or quantitative data. Those studies have involved subjects or participants who met specific criteria for the study. The study included results, graphs or figures assisting the reader in understanding not only how the study was conducted, but also what important findings came out of the study. This particular article has none of these characteristics because it is a survey. It gives a detailed description of what is available to educators working with students who may have some type of disability participating in their music education program.

Mr. Abramo gave a brief background on disability rights highlighting the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the American Disabilities Act of 1990 and most importantly the Education Act of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, now known to most as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990. He identifies the requirements of this piece of legislation requiring an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for students receiving special education services. He states, “These law have had positive effects on the actions of society, schools, teachers, and students (Abramo, 2012, p. 40).

Abramo (2012) also discusses the differences between the medical and social models of disability in part of his article. This was his major argument for leaving out music therapists as a resource in the school environment. He noted that the American Music Therapy Association, of which I am a member, noted that music therapy is identified as a “health profession” on our website (www.musictherapy.org). While this post’s focus is not to debate why or why not he decided to not mention therapists as a resource, this portion of his article highlights the differences between those who view a disability as a medical condition verses the “social stigma and ‘unofficial’ barriers that sometimes inhibit individuals from becoming full members of society” (Abramo, 2012, p. 40). I appreciate that he included this as a help to his fellow educators. His first figure included a list of resources for educators needing to adapt an instrument for a student. Since many educators do not receive training in this area, I am sure many found this to be a valuable resource.

Another large portion of this article discusses what is now known as “people-first language”. This is simply asking us as a society to think of the person first and the disability second. Instead of saying, “there is an autistic person”, one would say, “There is a person with autism”. This sensitivity to how we refer to someone with a disability removes stereotypes and shows dignity and respect.

Abramo finishes his research with a rather large list of resources for the music educator that include some resources for special education law, general resources on special education in music as well as specific music education resources for specific disabilities. He also encourages music educators to view “disabilities from the social model perspective [because it] allows teachers to approach this task in new ways by looking at disability and impairment as separate” (Abramo, 2012, p. 45).

Mr. Abramo’s article gives a good overview of some important information needed in the music education classroom. Having taught elementary music for seven years prior to working on my Masters in Music and refocusing my career in the area of music therapy, I know first hand the challenges music educators face in regards to the inclusive classroom. It is my hope that as the field of music therapy grows that more and more school districts throughout the United States will see their area of expertise as a valuable resource for assisting students in the educational arena. Music therapists cannot only assist music educators, but classroom teachers to enhance student learning.

Abramo, J. (2012). Disability in the classroom: Current trends and impacts on music education. Music Educators Journal, 99(1), pp. 39-45.