Our key question as we initiate a new millennium is "How do we live with one another?". Inclusion is about learning to live WITH one another. Inclusion means "being with".
Inclusion means inclusion! It means affiliation, combination, enclosure, involvement, surrounding. It means WITH. Inclusion means BEING WITH one another and caring for one another. It means inviting parents, students, and community members to be part of a new culture, a new reality. Inclusion means joining with new and exciting educational concepts (cooperative education, adult education, computer technology, critical thinking). Inclusion means inviting those who have been left out (in any way) to come in, and asking them to help design new systems that encourage every person to participate to the fullness of their capacity ? as partners and as members.
INCLUSION MEANS WELCOME!
"I want to be included!" This simple statement is being spoken, signed, facilitated, keyboarded, whispered and shouted by people of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, and cultures. Many are making the request for themselves while others are asking for their friends and aging relatives. It is a simple request and the answer is equally easy. "Welcome! We want to include you. Come and be a part of us and our community."
Why does this humble proposal evoke such strong reaction? Why is welcoming people labeled "Disabled" seen as an activity of the "radical fringe"? Hospitality is not radical. Caring for our family and friends is not radical. In fact, hospitality and caring are foundations of our culture. So why the intense reaction about inclusion?
We believe that the inclusion issue cuts directly to the core of our values. Inclusion seems so simple, so full of common sense, and yet it is xo complex. Inclusion sets off fire works in the souls of those involved. Inclusion challenges our beliefs about humanity and cuts deep into the recesses of our hearts.
Inclusion is NOT about placing a child with a disability in a classroom or school. That is only a tiny piece of the puzzle. Rather, inclusion is about how we deal with diversity, how we deal with difference, how we deal (or avoid dealing) with our mortality.
How else can we explain the emotions unleashed by the presence of a tiny child in a wheelchair, or the presence of a teenage with Down syndrome in a local school in Canada, the United States, or Britain? Why do so many apparently "normal" adults lose their composure with a mere mention of including an excluded child? We conclude that the arrival of this person signals major change, and for many change is something to fear ? something fraught with danger.
However, in danger there is also opportunity for growth. Thus, schools and communities, teachers and citizens, who face their own fears and mortality by welcoming ALL children, instantly create the climate for a new kind of growth. Inclusion becomes an opportunity and a catalyst to build a better, more humane and democratic system.
Inclusion does not mean we are all the same. Inclusion does not mean we all agree. Rather, inclusion celebrates our diversity and differences with respect and gratitude. The greater our diversity, the richer our capacity to create new visions. Inclusion means all together supporting one another.
A child or adult with a disability is a symbolic personal crucible where we face our feelings about differences head on. Inclusion is about how we tolerate people who look, act ,or think differently than so-called "ordinary" people. Inclusion can be deeply disturbing for it challenges our unexamined notions of what "ordinary" and "normal" really mean. Our hidden values are paraded before us in action and reaction.
Some of what we see is discomforting. The questions become very personal. How would I feel if I was unable to walk, talk or move? How would I feel if I had a child who was labeled? How do I feel about myself? How would I feel if I was disabled by an accident? And ultimately, the common issue we all face (or deny): How do I feel about growing older? Where will I live? With whom will I associate? Will people (my family and my friends) care for me when I need help, or will they cast me aside? Will I live an endless death waiting hopelessly, helplessly, uselessly in a nursing home? What will become of me when I am old?
Inclusion instigates this kind of reflection. No wonder people react! Reflection is vital to everyone. Life must be examined to be lived fully. It may be painful, but the inquiry can be the beginning of building new personal futures. We owe a debt of gratitude to people who present us with this magnitude of challenge. Thus, welcoming people with challenging differences into our schools and communities is not simply for their benefit, it is for OUR health and survival.
THE NEED TO BELONG
Inclusion isnt a new program or something one "does" to, or for, someone else. It is a deeply rooted spiritual concept that one lives. It is not a trendy product or fad to be discarded. It is not a new label : "the inclusion kids". It is not a bandwagon. People are either included or excluded. One cannot be a little bit pregnant or a little bit included or excluded (like the myth of "inclusive" lunch or recess). One is either "in" or "out". One either belongs or doesnt belong. If we exclude people, we are programming them for the fight of their lives : to get in and belong.
With the advent of new technology, the critical issues of this new revolution of compassion will be to learn how to live with one another. If we are to survive, we will enter an era of "high touch" and genuine personal communication. Who better to instruct us in this new venture than those who have been excluded and rejected in the past.
If we can pinpoint bomb cities half way around the globe, and send men and women into space, surely we can figure out how to live together with "liberty and justice for all". Inclusion is truly and simply a matter of will.
Communities that reject the richness of diversity continue to put us all at risk ? personally and internationally. Our future depends on our capacity to learn to live together. We must create societies that build a capacity for compassion for one and for all. Inclusion is about rebuilding our heart and giving us the tools for the human race to survive as a global family.
From The Inclusion Papers Reprinted and Edited With Permission from NADS-National Association for Down Syndrome.
This article first appeared in issue #8 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us