We are thrilled to introduce you all to this month’s Advo-KIT– Diane Nutting. Diane is the Director of Access and Inclusion at Imagination Stage, not to mention inclusion advocate extraordinaire. Continue reading for our interview with Diane.
When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion?
I have intersected with the fields of disability and a D/deafness throughout by whole professional life. I have always been passionate about the power of the arts to provide multiple entry points and create a level playing field where all participants can have an equal voice and contribution (regardless of background, language, ability, etc.). However, my true journey of inclusion began with my introduction to KIT and its programs several years ago. Having the language and strategies to articulate and put one of my core beliefs into practice was and is invaluable. My journey with inclusion continues every day as I learn and experience new things. This journey has allowed me to push beyond my previous “limits” of what I perceived to be possible in this work.
What do you love about inclusion?
I love that it’s about community. I love that every time inclusion is happening, it is creating an ensemble of sorts among all those participating in that moment. I’ve always been REALLY big on the ensemble ethic. My mantra as a teacher and director with young people has always been that everyone in the room is there for a reason and is bringing a unique gift to the process. The basic philosophies of inclusion align so well with my mantra. Since inclusion is so much about belonging, I believe that ensemble-based art forms are organic places for this to happen. But beyond that, I love what the entire community gains from an inclusive setting (those with and without disabilities). So much of the strife in our world I believe is because people don’t understand the perspectives of others (not that you have to agree, but you do need to understand). Inclusion provides young people–and adults as well–with the foundational building blocks for that way of thinking. I like to think that it’s a catalyst for larger change.
What is your vision for an inclusive world?
An inclusive world is a world where everyone takes ownership and responsibility for making sure that everyone has a voice and is accepted. A place where folks can be who they are and people accept differences as diversity rather than deficiency or “right” vs. “wrong.”
Did you overcome a barrier or roadblock regarding exclusion/inclusion?
I think my biggest roadblocks are always wondering or worrying about how others will respond to a situation and where they are in their own inclusion journey. This can come from typically developing children and their families/caregivers, but it can also come from the families of the children we are working to include. For example, sometimes families feel vulnerable or unsafe or don’t trust that we really want to include their child. And of course every teacher you meet is on their own journey. I think the biggest obstacles to overcome are making sure that everyone understands not only the “what” but also the “why” of inclusion, and then empowering them to work together to figure out “how.”
What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences?
Just one?!? Oh, I’m so blessed to have witnessed several amazing inclusion experiences. I think some of the most exciting ones are the ones that are the scariest or most unknown. The ones where we think “How is THIS going to happen?” We have a student who has participated in camps and classes for years. They have limited mobility and their communication is non-verbal (progressing as technology has progressed over the years). The first time they joined us, I remember some very frantic calls to the KIT staff because we wanted to be sure we got it right. We’ve taken on some pretty big challenges with this student–Improvisation, Shakespeare, Acting for the Camera, etc. But last summer, I watched as the student was fully integrated into a week long musical theatre boot camp that culminated in a final performance of songs, scenes, and movements. Watching this student be fully integrated into the production (through the creativity and passion of both the teaching and support staff, and the students themselves), was truly a treat.
What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?
Create an environment with a community focus and ethic–one where everyone cares about each other. Foster a community where kids understand that you will love and accept them and keep them safe no matter what, and then provide opportunities for them to do that for each other.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.