Being a teacher with disabilities: Perspectives, practices and opportunities

This publication provides insights into the lived experience of English language and other subject teachers with disabilities in national education systems in Brazil, Jordan, Rwanda, Spain and Sri Lanka.


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This page includes a summary of the findings.

In this report, Professor Nidhi Singal, Dr Patricia Kwok and Dr Thilanka Wijesinghe at the University of Cambridge address key questions regarding policies, experiences, strategies, and recommendations for supporting teachers with disabilities. Qualitative research methods, including interviews and participatory approaches, were employed with teachers with disabilities from Brazil, Rwanda, Spain, Jordan, and Sri Lanka. Twenty-five teachers with various disabilities participated in the study, offering diverse perspectives and experiences.

What the literature says

The research included a review of literature (from 1990 to 2024) which focused on teachers with disabilities in mainstream settings. A total of 87 articles from English-language peer-reviewed international journals were examined, with nearly half coming from the United States. Consistent themes came out which highlighted the positive impact of teachers with disabilities on shaping inclusive classrooms.

The review found that:

  • teachers with disabilities show the principles of inclusion through their teaching methods, being empathetic, respectful of differences, and agents of positive change
  • teachers with disabilities faced challenges, such as navigating institutional barriers and social stigma
  • line managers and individual agency were significant in empowering teachers to ask for accommodations and adaptations
  • more recent efforts have tried to improve teacher preparedness and training. This shows the importance of supporting trainees from the start, building a sense of purpose and a professional teaching identity
  • despite limited attention in policies and research, teachers with disabilities are essential members of the workforce
  • with an increasing number of children with disabilities entering mainstream schools, these teachers are vitally important for promoting an inclusive culture
  • highlighting the participation of teachers with disabilities opens new pathways for employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

In all five countries, numerous policies and legislation address inclusive education, particularly regarding children with disabilities. However, apart from Jordan's Ten-year strategy for inclusive education, there is little emphasis on recruiting teachers with disabilities to design and deliver inclusive education training. Teachers' experiences varied, but some trends were apparent.

Being a teacher with disabilities 

  • Teachers with disabilities were found working in mainstream settings in all countries, facing significant challenges. In Sri Lanka and Jordan, teachers often felt marginalised, and were given less important subjects to teach or were not given full teaching responsibilities.
  • Many teachers noted a lack of sensitivity and awareness among school management but shared positive experiences of supportive colleagues. Mixed experiences with students included instances of disrespect, though discussing their disabilities with students was seen as a powerful strategy.
  • Engagement with parents was generally supportive, with a focus on their child's learning rather than the teacher's disabilities. However, concerns about negative stigma around disability were shared across all countries.
  • Despite a lack of formal support, factors such as individual agency, resourcefulness, and resilience were significant in improving the working environment for teachers with disabilities. Many expressed a strong commitment to advocating for disability inclusion, recognising their position as powerful role models.

Functioning effectively in classrooms

  • This was a challenge for many teachers, with more than half reporting limited or no support. In relation to teachers with visual impairments, they talked about how they prepared teaching and learning materials in advance of the class, such as asking someone to draw a diagram or write on a flip chart. Other strategies included requesting physical modifications and using technology, although many highlighted a lack of training in this area.
  • Teachers' experiences of preparation and progression were consistent across countries and types of impairment, and were often characterised by minimal support. Informal support networks and peers played a crucial role during teacher training, but career progression opportunities were limited due to perceived inabilities or institutional barriers.
  • In the teacher narratives, there were no significant differences in gender, apart from small differences in relation to perceptions of career progression. 

Recommendations for national governments

  • Develop clear recruitment policies for teachers with disabilities
  • Invest in inclusive teacher training programmes
  • Empower school leaders to make flexible decisions to support teachers with disabilities to perform their duties.

Recommendations for educational programme design

  • Recruit teachers with disabilities in all programmes
  • Mandate disability awareness training to ensure that people who are delivering programmes are sensitive to disability issues and can model good practices
  • Build the capacity of teachers with disabilities to use EdTech effectively to help support their teaching
  • Provide professional mentors to teachers with disabilities who can advocate, as needed, but also draw on their experiences to share effective practices
  • Draw on the power of educational organisations to undertake multiple stakeholder consultations to strengthen the implementation of policies, programmes and legislation for teachers with disabilities, including working with teacher unions

Recommendations for programme monitoring, evaluation, research and learning

  • Develop multilevel and multistage approaches to change that are sustainable, such as building communities of practice for teachers with disabilities, which can help them become active pioneers of change rather than passive recipients of support
  • Support more research with a specific focus on disability, including collecting disaggregated data on disability. This can be useful for internal monitoring purposes and can also help develop evidence-informed policies and programmes for the wider education sector
  • Work with teachers with disabilities on impact evaluation to ensure that educational reform efforts draw on their nuanced perspectives to identify both opportunities and challenges in developing inclusive education systems.

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