Like many special education and early childhood educators, researchers and teachers at the University of Washington’s Haring Center for Inclusive Education are no strangers to “making do.”

Computer cords snake along the tops of hallways in the center’s crowded 1960s-era building. The gymnasium doubles as a lunch room. Cutting-edge ideas are tested and refined in spaces designed more than two generations ago.

But thanks to a $30 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation, the renowned inclusive special education and early learning program will undergo a comprehensive remodel — a brick-and-mortar update befitting its transformative work. This worthy investment should inspire Washington state legislators to better support inclusive special education across the state.

For more than half a century, the Haring Center has been the vanguard of inclusion research, driving improvements in education policy and improving the lives of countless students with special needs. The center’s Experimental Education Unit directly serves children of all abilities from birth to kindergarten. Its researchers study barriers to learning faced by children with autism, other neurodevelopmental disorders and disabilities. They develop innovative methods that help all students thrive.

Imagine what they’ll accomplish in a modern building designed for 21st Century learning. With flexible workspaces to foster collaboration between researchers and teachers, and technological upgrades that make it easier to share best practices with teachers around the state and across the world.

“This idea that we’re going to have a space that’s specially designed for us, that’s just fantastic,” said Haring Center Director Ilene Schwartz. The project is estimated to be complete by September 2023.


Students with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with limited access to in-person instruction, other therapies and social interaction. But inclusive classrooms also can help typically developing students, as the Haring Center has shown.

Schwartz said just as curb cuts designed for wheelchair users help travelers lugging a suitcase or parents pushing a stroller, a typically developing student can also benefit from a visual schedule designed for a child with autism or other modifications designed to help make abstract ideas more concrete.

Such strategies will be especially important as schools help students recover from last year’s historic disruption.

This well-timed and welcome gift will support the center’s groundbreaking research and help children thrive instead of making do.