In interviews with a dozen activists and people with disabilities this week, only one criticism of Ms. Warren’s plan was raised: its lack of an explicit commitment to inclusive education, in which children with disabilities are taught in regular classrooms with accommodations, not in separate special-education rooms. Several studies have shown that children do better academically and socially under inclusive education.
Ms. Warren, who has often spoken about her experience as a special-education teacher, is committed to inclusive education, her campaign said, adding that several elements of her plan — including more funding for paraprofessionals, who can help students with disabilities in regular classrooms — would promote it. But her plan sets no targets or timeline for that.
By contrast, Mr. Buttigieg’s plan says that by the end of the 2025 school year, 85 percent of students with “intellectual and multiple disabilities” should be spending 80 percent or more of the school day in a regular classroom.
Ms. Lucas, of Bay Village, Ohio, said that when her son Bobby, who has Down syndrome, was put in a separate classroom in second grade, he became so depressed that he said he would kill himself. Bobby is now in fifth grade and in a regular classroom, and Ms. Lucas said that he was doing well — but that she was constantly afraid a new administrator could remove him.
“Just because that segregated room exists, it’s a constant threat for him,” she said.
Cal Montgomery, 52, an activist in Chicago who has autism and uses a wheelchair, also brought up inclusive education. “If all you see is that the disabled kids are somewhere else,” he said, “then it’s much easier to accept institutionalization as a natural thing when you’re an adult.”
He added, though, that he was leaning toward voting for Ms. Warren, and that she had “clearly listened” to people with disabilities — a sentiment echoed by several members of the working group, who said they had rarely seen a candidate collaborate that way.
“There’s a saying in the disability community, ‘Nothing about us without us,’” Mr. Cortland said. “Some other candidates have talked about the disability community as being something ‘other,’ and not really talked about us in ways that reflect the fact that we’re 25 percent of the population of the United States.”