By Julie Chick

If you are like I was, when you hear ‘inclusion’ you may run an internal checklist and derive at something like, “Well that’s easy, we’ll all be nice and get along” or something close. Many of us may be rather foggy with what we really mean when we say, ‘inclusion’. Inclusion means the equal right to everyone, disabled or not, to participate in all public events, school, programs and community. Recently, I had the opportunity to learn from an active group of parents from all over Oregon, raising children with disabilities, on how to get real with inclusion.

Because our family has a son who experiences Down syndrome we tend to look at inclusion from this perspective. Yet, the appetite for inclusion applies to everyone regardless of ability, race, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, and religion. We all have an innate desire to be accepted and loved. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines inclusion as a relation between two classes that exists when all members of the first are also members of the second.

What does inclusion look like for those who experience disability? It starts with the principle that disability is natural. It is not going away. It is part of who we are. Disability is a part of humanity. It also means the ideas that disabled is separate, less, or non-abled are sentiments that are severely outdated and leave little to be inspired. Inclusion says we all learn from each other and we each have a place at the table as leaders, business owners, students, customers, constituents, and as community members. It declares an end to the segregation of those who experience developmental disabilities; and it means that every person is extended the same foundational opportunities and rights as their peers.

Segregation and intolerance for those deemed ‘different’ by our communities is no stranger to any of us. In Oregon, it has been fewer than 20 years since the closure of the Oregon State Institution for the Feeble-Minded (later renamed Fairview Training Center and closed in 2000). This is where those with a developmental disability often times found themselves, or in a similar institutional setting, isolated from the community and under horrific conditions.

Sadly, segregation also happens in less obvious instances, and continues today. Perhaps a child is no longer eligible to participate in a public program for the infraction of not being able to read, or a senior, once prominent community leader, is forced to shorten programs due to the infringement of being too slow. It is the act of these seemingly minor instances that we all must take a pause and ask ourselves if we are truly being inclusive.

Why does this matter?

Resisting the idea of inclusionbased on limited understanding is a no-win situation. Our children do not grow up in their community to use ‘special’ grocery stores, banks or parks. We, as a whole community, need to prepare them and ourselves. Some organizations are on the path to inclusion, but unfortunately, many are not. It can go virtually unnoticed that a person is excluded because the staff is unaware or not supported in how to make inclusion happen. Individual, organizational, and community training is essential. Those that have experience around disability and segregation have a resiliency and strength, and often times are willing to share. Ask questions, learn from others, and find leaders that are demonstrating inclusion and use them as a model.

It is a great time to be a part of the change. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is merely 28 years old.  Prior to this those that experienced disabilities were easily discriminated against, segregated and/or excluded from their communities. The term ‘disability’ as defined by the ADA is broader than you may think and it may not always be something you can see. With the passing of the ADA in 1990, people with a disability have been allowedaccess to their communities and have an equal opportunity to a whole life within the community of their choice. Policy changes and achievements such as this aside, practices and minor infractions on rights don’t change until the real work of attitudinal transformation begins – a change to the culture of inclusion.

Fast-forward to today…our 13-year-old son loves to do things similar to many kids his age, and like all others, he also has his unique differences. He has his very own hopes and dreams about his future, similar to the rest of us, some of which include surfing, acting, and playing soccer. Like other parents with their children, we support him in his preparation to realize his dreams. And, like many kids his age, he prepares by being part of his community: his family community, his school community, and his hometown community. This groundwork for his future of independence would flounder if he were relegated to only ‘special’ segregated environment with no community access. He thrives when included and supported to develop meaningful relationships and expects nothing less. He is well on his way to deciding how he will participate and contribute, with his unique voice, within the community he chooses.  This is what Community Inclusion looks like for you, and he is no different.

When you reflect on what inclusion looks like in your own life, especially if it is effortless, look around: is everyone at the table? Who’s missing, and what can you do to promote true inclusion?

About Julie

Julie Chick is a mother of two boys, 11 and 13 years old. As a coastal resident, Julie has always found herself immersed in work and play that envelops the natural outdoor settings of the North Oregon Coast. She and her spouse, Phil, use these environments along with modalities such as hiking and paddling to engage others to question, wonder, and discover not only what is out there, but what capabilities exist within ourselves. When it comes to raising her boys, she applies these philosophies by advocating and focusing on big dreams and the ability to realize those dreams. She now works for FACT Oregon whose mission is to empower families experiencing disability through creating awareness, growing communities, and equipping families. Find out more: www.factoregon.org