Inclusive Philosophy

This page shares work and ideas for creating inclusive philosophy curriculum and groups for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


Though we rightly consider bringing ethics to the general population, children, and incarcerated people, we rarely discuss what it would mean to offer ethics to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). People with IDD, unlike other populations we wish to reach, will often never encounter philosophy in an academic setting, and philosophy in non-academic settings, such as library discussion groups, may feel unsafe and risky.

Philosophy in particular has been antagonistic towards people with IDD, often using examples of people with cognitive disabilities in distasteful thought experiments and perpetuating rhetoric which privileges the way certain kinds of minds work. We have so far refused to engage seriously with the lived experience and insights of people with IDD, let alone provide them with the tools, knowledge, and experiences of philosophy we so value. 

What is an accessible philosophy class?

In an accessible philosophy class, a disability is not a liability but simply a fact that shapes how the class works. The instructor or leader shapes the content and questions to be relevant and approachable for the participants. The class is interactive, with the goal of sparking discussions and new questions, and empowering.

How does this work?

Sample Class Plan from “Big Ideas” Discussion Group with Detour Company Theatre’s “Detour Academy” Spring 2021

Class topics (8 week class)

-Reasons: How do we explain what we think? 

-Personal identity: Are we who we are because of our memories? Our interests? Our bodies?

-Other minds: Can we mind-read? What kind of thing has a mind/consciousness?

-Dreams: Are dreams real? How do our sleeping dreams relate to the idea of dreams as goals/hopes?

-Ethics: What’s right and what’s wrong? What makes something right or wrong?

-Love and friendship: Who is a “family”? What do family love, friendship, and romantic love have in common?

-Political Philosophy: How do we decide what to do about questions that affect all of us? How would you change the world?

-Imagination & Experience Machine: What makes things meaningful?

Class format (75 min class)

15 minute warm-up activity: Everyone practices some kind of “thinking” and everyone is able to give short responses

  • Example: We have two songs we could play later in class but we only have time to do one—how should we decide? (political phil)

50 minutes: Usually broken up into two sessions, sometimes three

  • Example: 20 mins trying to mind-read, 10 mins talking about whether that worked, 20 mins talking about whether a plant or my shoe have feelings/minds (epistemology/metaphysics)

10 minute cool-down activity: a kind of culmination, as positive as possible, incorporates talking to each other as much as possible

  • Example: Telling a story together where a bad thing happens but then a good thing can fix it (ethics)


Plain Language

Ideas for class topics

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