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Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D.

Inclusive Education Consulting

"Ask Cheryl"

Here's your opportunity to ask us questions about inclusive education, curriculum development, effective change strategies, and more. Just go to the "Contact Me" page and submit your question there. Every month or so I'll feature a new question and my answer. I'll be sure to disguise your name and location.

December 2019

Dear Cheryl,

I work with a student who is included in social studies and science and I don't know how to make 10th grade books and other texts accessible to him. He reads at about the 2nd grade level. Can you help?

Speech Language Pathologist

Dear SLP,

I sure can! Let me start by sharing 6 principles of adapting materials:

1.Make sure that the essential content of the academic standards are represented.

2.Always have the un-adapted materials available.

3.Provide more than text-to-speech access.

4.Use symbols, pictures, animation, and sound to support comprehension.

5.Accommodate for vision, hearing, and movement difficulties.

6.Focus on removing barriers to full participation. Don’t simply provide alternate materials to be used in an alternate activity in a different setting.

With these principles in mind, you have 5 choices (not all mutually exclusive) for making grade-level text accessible for your student.

The first is to have the student LISTEN to the text using a text-to-speech option in Microsoft Word or a specialized program such as Read & Write, Kurzweil, Bookshare, or an iPad or Android app. Obviously your student would need to have grade-appropriate listening comprehension skills in order for this option to be appropriate.

Second, you can order lower reading level informational texts through these sources: 

Third, you can use a text-leveling app called Snap and Read Universal. This app has the following features:

• Reads accessible and inaccessible text aloud

• Works across Google Drive, email, websites, Kindle Cloud Reader, and PDFs

• Works offline

• Dynamic Text Leveling

• Study tools

• Annotation

• Translation into 100+ languages on Chrome

• Data for reading level and usage

• Bibliographer

• Shows Readability

The most effective search terms are:

NAME OF THE BOOK or TOPIC + adapted + modified. For example, I found lots of adapted materials for Charlotte's Web and To Kill a Mockingbird by using that search method. - entire Charlotte’s Web unit materials

Adapted materials for unit

Chapter summaries

Re-written text in PPT format – several versions

Boardmaker symbols and photos of TKAMB characters

Background knowledge videos and websites

And fifth - after you have exhausted the first 4 options, is to create an adapted book or chapter "from scratch." Here are some tips for simplifying text and adding picture or symbol support.

First, determine your student’s reading level

Determine what symbols (e.g., photos, line drawings, Google images, cartoon clip art, Boardmaker) symbols you might use to enhance your student’s understanding of the text.

Remember the rule: DO NOT ADD PICTURES TO TEXT THAT YOU WANT YOUR STUDENT TO DECODE. Enhancing text with symbols can help students with comprehension of text and their participation in read alouds. It does not help students learn to “sound out” or learn to read sight words.

Guidelines for Simplifying Text:

1. Breakdown compound and complex sentences. Remove transition/connecting words and make them into 2 separate sentences.


Unsimplified: A shiver convulsed Joel, though the sun was still bright and hot, and he began to move woodenly toward the spot where he had left his clothes.

Simplified: Joel shivered. He walked to the place where he left his clothes.

Text excerpts from: On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer

2. Watch the pronoun use. Try not to have too many pronouns where it may not be confusing who/what it might be referring to. Make sure that the pronoun has what it is referring to right before it or in the preceding sentence. When using character names/dialogue, try to not have too many: he, she, they, we. Use them but sparingly—try to use the actual name while not making it so mechanical. This might make it easier to follow the conversation.


Unsimplified: Maybe Tony could still be saved if he got help.

Simplified: Maybe Tony could be saved if Joel got help.

3. Simplify vocabulary words. Keep some rich vocabulary words to explain and teach. But, will want to keep it in balance to allow time for teaching all of the other text concepts/connections. When simplifying vocabulary words, also consider the vocabulary on the student's AAC device.


Unsimplified: Joel fell over and vomited again.

Simplified: Joel fell over. He threw up again.

4. Consider the student’s background knowledge. Clarify concepts/terms that students may not have the background knowledge to understand. For example, a student who has never ridden a bike before may not know the name “Schwinn.” Try to clarify when possible.


Unsimplified: Tony said, “I get dibs on the Schwinn!"

Simplified: Tony said, “I want the Schwinn bike!"

5. Clarify figurative language


Unsimplified: Joel gave Tony a high five, taking in his friend's face as he did.

Simplified: Joel gave Tony a high five. Joel looked closely at Tony’s face.

6. Delete information that is not necessary to understanding the main theme(s).

There is so much involved with teaching comprehension—there are a lot of balls to juggle for any student. It may be helpful to choose a few to juggle for the very beginning reader to make them more successful. It is important to target and give instruction at a level a bit beyond where the student is. Try to do this while maintaining the integrity of the story.


Unsimplified: It took only about ten minutes to reach the edge of town. On their way past the school, Tony stuck out his tongue in the direction of the sixth-grade classroom where they had spent last year. Joel, deciding he might as well get into the spirit of the day, followed suit, though he liked school well enough.

Simplified: It took ten minutes to reach the edge of town. The boys rode past their school. Tony stuck out his tongue at the school. Joel did the same, even though he liked school.

Here's some of the original text of a short story by Langston Hughes called "Thank You Ma'am."

She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke with the single tug the boy gave it from behind. But the boy’s weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance so, instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. the large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

This text would be challenging for any student! Here's the text simplified:

Mrs. Jones was a large woman with a large purse that had lots of stuff in it. It had a long strap and Mrs. Jones carried it on her shoulder.

A boy ran up behind Mrs. Jones and tried to grab her purse.

The strap broke when the boy grabbed the purse. The boy fell on the ground and Mrs. Jones kicked him in his butt.

Finally, many students benefit from having picture or symbol support to help them comprehend text. Here's an example of a few sentences from the book "Sarah, Plain, and Tall."

Google Images is your friend. At the beginning of a unit or just before students are going to read a book in ELA, build a picture/symbol library. Not only will you be able to use it to create adapted text like the example above, but you'll also be able to create flashcards, picture/word choices for cloze sentences, and topic boards like that depicted below.

Best wishes for a great school year!



January 2020

Dear Cheryl,

Although my son is fully included in a 5th grade general education class I am not happy with his lack of access to what is being taught. His team seems to have a good handle on how he can work on things like managing moving his belongings, moving around the classroom and school, and communicating about social things, but I don't really see him learning academics. Can you help?


Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

Your concerns are very common and not only felt by parents but also by educators. People seem to "get" the social benefits of inclusion for students with complex support needs but are unsure about how they can learn academics. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions for how his team can make his inclusion meaningful in all ways.

1. Presume his competence to learn! Often one of the barriers to students' participation in academic instruction in the general education classroom is that they just don't think that students CAN learn academics. I beg to differ! Even if a student can't yet communicate that they are learning some of the general education content I think that it is the "least dangerous assumption" to assume that they can and are! My colleague Anne Donnellan put it this way (back in 1984):

“The criterion of least dangerous assumption holds that in the absence of conclusive data, educational decisions ought to be based on assumptions which, if incorrect, will have the least dangerous effect on the likelihood that students will be able to functional independently as adults.”

And for me, the least dangerous assumption is to PRESUME COMPETENCE for these 5 reasons:

First, when we expect students to learn, they are more likely to do so. Pretty simple and this has nothing to do with disability.

Second, traditional assessments of the intelligence of people with complex support needs - particularly those who do not use natural speak to communicate - are very flawed and often tell us more about what people can't do than what they might be able to do with support. If someone has assessed your child and told you his or her I.Q. is "low," I would just ignore that information and ask what needs to be done in order to assure that your child has full access to high quality instruction in the general education classroom.

Third, we now have over 40 years of research showing that an increasing number of people with "severe intellectual disability" labels show they are more competent than ever thought possible WHEN they have a means to communicate and are provided with good instruction. If just one person whose I.Q. was measured at 40 (or 50 or 20) shows that they are smarter than that number would indicate I think we have to question the validity of I.Q. measurements for anyone.

Fourth, if we assume that someone can't learn x, y, or z, and we are WRONG about that assumption we have done a terrible disservice to that person.

And fifth, even IF we are wrong about someone's ability to learn, that is not as dangerous as the alternative.

2. My second recommendation is that your son's IEP team read my article (on the Resources page) called "Inclusion is More Than Just Being In." It describes a participation planning process that determines the supports needed by a student to fully participate in general education instruction based on the Common Core State Standards, taught by a general education teacher in a general education classroom. Since I wrote that article I've updated the planning forms and they (Form 1 and Form 2) are on the Resources page also.

3. Suggest that your son's team read the Guidelines for Creating Accessible Instructional Materials that is on my Resources page. In this document are many links to already adapted or modified books and other texts, descriptions of apps and software pages that can be used to make instructional materials (both literary and informational text) accessible to students, and instructions for making "from scratch" adapted books and other materials.

I would also remind your son's team that making instructional materials accessible for students with disabilities is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004).

I hope these suggestions are helpful and good luck.



February 2020

Dear Cheryl,

We have a student who is included in all general education classes in 10th grade. So far she hasn't shown that she is getting anything we are teaching her. Wouldn't it be in her best interest to be in our "Life Skills" class instead?


Concerned Teacher

Dear Concerned Teacher,

I understand where you are coming from. When students don't currently show progress we wonder if we shouldn't make a big change in their educational program. I would like to offer my point of view, developed over the last 29 years.

I think all teachers have had students who led them to that “ah-ha” experience that helped them realize why they got into teaching in the first place. The students were eager, curious, funny, stubborn, persistent, or just plain nice kids. It happened for me back in 1992. I was doing some school reform and inclusive education work with a newly built high school in southern New Hampshire. On my first day at the school, I met two incoming 9 graders, both of whom had pretty significant disabilities. Let’s call them John and Rob. John looked terrified as he made his way down the busy hallways. He didn’t use his voice to communicate, but cobbled together some gestures and signs to try to make himself understood. He seemed unable to read and his most recent three-year re-evaluation revealed a 42 I.Q. He had some compulsive behaviors and was very anxious most of the time. He was shy and withdrawn, clumsy and overweight. The second student I met that day couldn’t have been more different. Rob appeared to be thriving in 9 grade, giving high-5’s to just about everyone he met as he walked through the busy hallways between classes. He seemed cooperative and was a real jokester. He had recently learned to use a communication board and was a whiz at spelling, although he, too, did not use his voice to communicate. In fact, I heard a classmate tell him “Hey, slow down, slow down, I can’t keep up with you!” I learned that he was an assistant manager of the football team and he wore his team jersey proudly. When I looked through John’s cumulative file, I saw a pretty typical educational history for a student with his “developmental disability” profile. He had been in all self-contained classes through 8 grade except for art and physical education. His IEP goals focused on pre-academic skills (e.g., matching, 1:1 correspondence, letter identification); as well as on self-care, vocational, and life- skills. He spent most of every day with other students who had significant disabilities and participated in Special Olympics. Rob’s educational program was quite different. He was included in all general education classes. His IEP contained goals and objectives that reflected the essential elements of the general education curriculum, as well as objectives related to reading, managing his belongings, participating in extracurricular activities, and communication skills. In speaking with John and Rob’s parents, I saw starkly different future expectations for these young men. John’s parents thought he would live in a group home, work in a sheltered workshop, and spend most of his time with other people who had significant disabilities. Rob’s parents expected him to eventually live away from home, perhaps with roommates who might get free rent in order to provide some support to him. They thought Rob might work in the family pizza business or perhaps in a fitness facility since he liked sports and was so gregarious. They hoped that the friendships he had developed in school would continue on into adult life and that those friends who stayed in the area would hang out together doing what other 20-somethings did in their spare time. When I talk about these two students in workshops, I ask people to come up with a hypothesis about why their educational programs and futures look so different. Several people always say “Well, it looks like John is a lot lower functioning than Rob.” And there it is. Across the U.S. , only 16% of students who are labelled as having an intellectual disability are included in general education classes for most of their school day. Over 50% of students taking alternate assessments do not have the assistive technology (including augmentative communication) that they need in order to demonstrate what they really know. Our judgments about students’ intellectual capacity affect every decision we make about their educational programs, their communication systems and supports, the social activities we support them to participate in, and the futures we imagine. OK, time to fess up. There actually weren’t two students at the high school. Just one and his name was Amro Diab. Amro had been in self-contained classes his whole life before moving into 9 grade. A key special education teacher who served in the role of Inclusion Facilitator at his new high school, together with some folks from the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, developed Amro’s educational program based on the idea of presuming his competence. They believed that with the right supports, Amro could learn the essential elements of the general education curriculum, communicate effectively, have a full social life based on shared interests with his classmates, and graduate to an inclusive adult life in the community. This notion of presuming competence tends to be a deeply held belief and those who hold it don’t need I.Q. or other test scores to back them up. For them, and for me, it’s the “least dangerous assumption” I can make about any student, any person. As I’ve thought more deeply about this idea over the last 30 years – and yes, there have been students who’ve challenged my beliefs – I’ve identified five reasons why presuming competence will always guide my work. First, people’s expectations matter. When teachers expect students to do well, they do even better than expected. Second, I.Q. and other tests that purport to measure human capacity are terribly flawed. They usually tell us what students can’t do rather than what they might do if they had good instruction and high quality supports. Basing a student’s whole educational career and future on a test score just seems fraught with potential harm. Third, a growing body of research shows “unexpected” abilities in people who had been identified as intellectually disabled when they were provided with a means to communicate. Think Hellen Keller or Larry Bissonnette. Fourth, to presume incompetence could cause irreparable harm to our students if we are wrong. And finally, even if we are wrong about a student’s ability to learn and to communicate in ways that are on par with his classmates without disabilities, being wrong about that isn’t as dangerous as the alternative.

Sincerely, Cheryl