Promoting Inclusion and Belonging Everyday

This article originally appeared in START Connecting in April 2023. 

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Office of Special Education (OSE) Priority Focus is Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). This focus ensures that when IEP teams are making placement decisions: (1) LRE requirements are understood by all team members and (2) districts are taking steps to ensure the placement is based solely on the needs of the student. Further, the MDE OSE priority reflects the benefit for students with disabilities, including those with extensive support needs, to be in front of general education instruction with appropriate support alongside their peers.

In alignment with the MDE OSE LRE Priority Focus and in celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, START has launched a new webpage dedicated to promoting inclusion and belonging.

Children laughing

What is Inclusion?

Inclusion is a word that can evoke various images and meanings to each one of us. Meaningful inclusion is demonstrated when people with disabilities are involved in natural, everyday activities and given opportunities to be involved in ways similar to their peers who do not have a disability. 

Why is Inclusion Important?

First and foremost, inclusion is a human right. Everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability, deserves access to full participation in the community, including education. Not only is inclusion simply the right thing to do, but there is also a legal basis for inclusion. Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not define inclusion, it outlines the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). To learn more about LRE, visit the START website.

Additionally, meaningful inclusion promotes belonging. Belonging is feeling comfortable in a group and having a positive relationship with the other members of the group because they welcome and accept you. “Students will flourish most within a learning community where belonging is actively promoted and personally experienced” (Carter & Biggs, 2021). 

What are the Benefits of Inclusion?

An ever-growing body of research demonstrates that inclusive education benefits all. For example, students with disabilities who have learned in inclusive settings experience academic and social benefits (Gee et al., 2020; Oh-Young & Filler, 2015). In addition, inclusion in general education for students with disabilities is a predictor of post-school education, employment, and independent living (Mazzotti et al., 2021). With regards to students without disabilities, data from Unified Champion Schools indicate that inclusion enhances the ability of non-disabled students to work together, understand and value different perspectives, and think critically.

How Can I Promote Inclusion and Belonging at School?

Successful inclusion requires a comprehensive approach and a fully engaged school staff, IEP team, and administrative leadership. With that in mind, here are tools to kick-start the conversation on inclusion and belonging.

Dimensions of Belonging

(Image from Ties Center)

Promoting Inclusion and Belonging is a new webpage created by START that offers selected information and tools to take action on inclusion and belonging. Explore and share this webpage as you embark on your journey towards inclusive education.

The TIES Center is focused on Creating Communities of Belonging for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities and provides mini guides and a Belonging Reflection Tool. This April (and beyond), we encourage you to use the tool to foster conversations within your school community about belonging.


Written by: Stephanie Pulido, M.Ed. (Program Evaluation and Resource Development Specialist) and Amy Matthews, Ph.D., BCBA (Project Director) 


Carter, E. W., & Biggs, E. E. (2021). Creating communities of belonging for students with significant cognitive disabilities (Belonging Series). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, TIES Center.

Gee, K., Gonzalez, M., & Cooper, C. (2020). Outcomes of inclusive versus separate placements: A matched pairs comparison study. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 45(4), 223–240.

Mazzotti, V. L., Rowe, D. A., Kwiatek, S., Voggt, A., Chang, W.-H., Fowler, C. H., Poppen, M., Sinclair, J., & Test, D. W. (2021). Secondary transition predictors of postschool success: An update to the research base. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 44(1), 47–64.

Oh-Young, C., and Filler, J. (2015). A meta-analysis of the effects of placement on academic and social skill outcome measures of students with disabilities. Research on Developmental Disabilities, 47, 80–92.

Page last modified April 10, 2023