Inclusion of people with disabilities is a concept that is simple to understand but very difficult to implement correctly. If inclusion is implemented correctly, everyone involved learns to work together in order to cultivate strength and overcome weakness. Seeds of empowerment will forever be planted in the heart. If inclusion is implemented incorrectly, weakness can smother strength and self esteem can wither in the burning heat of anger and self pity.
I’ve struggled with inclusion all of my life. Never more so then when I started college. I needed a lot of help to live in the dorm I couldn’t get in and out of bed on my own. So I often had to go to bed early which left little time for socializing in between classes, because I had to be put in bed when my aid could do it. Due to certain other physical differences, it took me longer to complete classwork. so I was working a lot. I felt that my disability erected a wall between me and my dorm mates that I had trouble breaking and I was sensitive about it.
My senior year, I was required to do a community service project. I was invited to go to a local church to fix burritos for the homeless. No one told us that this church wasn’t wheelchair accessible. I could get in the door but I couldn’t go downstairs to help make food. I remember the priest saying “Handicapped access is a problem for us, but if you stay here and tell people to go downstairs if they try to use the front door, it would be helpful.” I nodded as he locked the door.
This was not inclusion, this was a patronizing attempt to avoid embarrassment. If it wasn’t for the nice young woman who kept me company all night. I would have felt awful.
Since the church didn’t work, I went to a soup kitchen where I was able to work. I helped to peal potatoes and put things in salad. I did it slower than anybody there, but I felt like a part of things. I was there to help and I did.
All people, regardless of circumstance or ability, want to feel seen and heard. Its important for all people to feel included in the right way, for the right reasons.