Carnegie Mellon University
September 24, 2021

Williamson Seeks Path Forward for Inclusive Education

By Ann Lyon Ritchie

The lockdown of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the education system with schools physically closing and switching to online learning, some for more than a year.

Special-needs education, which often relies on individualized in-person learning for social interactions and important life skills, came to a halt when children had to come home.

"Children were left behind as the pandemic began and continued," Carnegie Mellon University senior Madison Williamson said. In Pennsylvania, roughly 18% of K-12 students are enrolled in special education and approximately 21% of them are enrolled in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. These learners could no longer access individualized support for autism, hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, specific learning disabilities and other needs. 

Williamson, who is studying psychology, wants to measure the impact that the pandemic has had on K-12 special education. Through surveying parents, teachers and administrators in the Pittsburgh region, she aims to identify gaps in the learning experiences for students who access special education services so that knowledge can be used to create more accommodating learning opportunities in the future.

"I thought a lot about how children who need accommodations were struggling to learn at home," Williamson said.

Read more about Williamson’s research project