By Kathryn King, Business Development Manager,
Kids Included Together
The world can be a small place sometimes, especially within the YMCA. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1991, I spent five months as a counselor at La Casa de Minores Migrantes, a YMCA youth refugee shelter which was part of the Tijuana, Mexico YMCA. While working there, I connected with another young woman supporting YMCA international programs named Lynda Gonzales. Over the years, my career path shifted from international work into a disability inclusion focus. What a nice surprise when, twenty-five years later, I found myself running into Lynda in her role as Chief Diversity Officer at YMCA of the USA – at the 2016 Global Centers of Excellence Network Event! When Lynda hugged me and said, “Welcome home,” I was surprised because it doesn’t feel like I ever left. Although I have worked for different organizations over the years, “That All May Be One” has always been my mission.
At the GCE Network Event I presented a session on how the organization I work for, Kids Included Together (KIT), can be a partner to ensure equity for youth with disabilities and their families. Equity is often thought about in terms of race or ethnicity, but disability is also an underserved population. According to the World Health Organization, children with disabilities are among the world’s most marginalized and excluded children. KIT works with YMCAs and other organizations to meaningfully include kids with disabilities through inclusion training, policy development and sharing our best practices information and research. After the presentation, someone came up and shared that the graphic below (which explains the difference between inclusion, exclusion, segregation, and integration) created an “ah-ha” moment. I love those! She said that the graphic clarified that inclusion means going beyond access to figuring out what each kid, in each setting, needs to participate, make friends, and feel welcome.
Any organization can ensure that their programs are truly inclusive by making accommodations to their policies, practices and procedures to support individual children and families. Take a minute to compare your program’s philosophy to the main points of disability inclusion below. Does your program have:
- A shared way of thinking where every youth has value and can contribute in a meaningful way.
- A belief that every child has the inherent right to contribute to his or her community.
- An approach where individualized accommodations promote access to child care and youth programs.
- A community where program staff and families work together and are supported by resources and training.
- A space where youth with and without disabilities acknowledge and value differences.
As a previous YMCA Youth Programs Director, I personally thank the YMCA for being such a strong voice in the national conversation on disability inclusion for child and youth programs. If you would like to learn more about KIT and how we can partner with your organization, please go to our website, kit.org, or email me at Kathryn@kit.org.