The United Nations designated next Friday – Dec. 3 – as International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and this year’s theme is all about inclusion.
For all of us in the field, it offers us a chance to pause and celebrate just how far we’ve come. However, it also raises the question: What does inclusion really look like, and what work still needs to be done to achieve it?
We hear the word all the time, but once in a while, I think it’s helpful to take a step back and consider its meaning. By definition, inclusion is: “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.”
The word inclusion comes from “to include.” While it may seem rudimentary, I feel it’s important to highlight the fact that “include” is a verb. We do not achieve inclusion without taking action.
In the decades since Geraldo Rivera exposed the horrific, inhumane conditions at Willowbrook State School, we’ve seen a remarkable, promising, collective effort take shape. Politicians have pursued and passed legislation to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Agencies have raised funds critical to improving programs and services. Families have engaged in town hall forums to educate their neighbors. Community organizers have lobbied for support from government officials. Schools and colleges have created special programs to ensure that learning experiences are customized to meet a wide range of needs.
At Anderson Center for Autism, we’ve been discussing the fact that “awareness” has been at the forefront of so many conversations over recent years. It is key, of course, to helping people understand what life is like for people impacted by developmental disabilities, and empowering them to be of help in some way.
That said, though, we cannot stop at simply raising awareness. If we are to realize our potential to be a truly “inclusive” society, we must put our awareness and compassion into action, exploring the steps that still need to be taken to make life more fulfilling, productive and healthy for people with disabilities.
We have the privilege of working with caring professionals who come from all over the world to experience Anderson Center International, which was created to provide international fellows with intensive, yearlong training. It is designed to give them the tools they need to build cultures of inclusivity within their own countries upon their return home.
On this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities may we all be inspired by those international fellows, along with every person locally, regionally and nationally who has taken some action to make life better for neighbors and friends who are differently-abled.
May we consider the ways in which we can do more to actively include someone impacted by a developmental disability. I believe that if every one of us commits to take just one additional action step, we can make real progress toward that goal of “inclusion.”