One of the things I like best about our field of work is the amazing people who are so committed to the value of community inclusion. One of these people is Beth Foraker, who founded the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion to help Catholic schools support students with diverse needs. She is a true champion and such a positive force for change. We frequently connect through Twitter, Facebook, text and email and even went on an “inclusion field trip” together last year. We were recently talking about the concept of “readiness,” which can be a real barrier to inclusive practice. We decided to create a tandem blog post, where we would each reflect on this idea of “being ready for inclusion.” My submission follows, and you can see Beth’s powerful and poetic response here.
At Kids Included Together we talk to a lot of community-based programs and schools who are new to the concept of including kids who have disabilities. We get a variety of responses, but the one we hear most often is “we’d like to, but we aren’t ready.” With a big warm smile and all the love in our heart, we say to them, “You are ready.”
As humans, we were born ready. We are made to connect, to try to understand each other and to help one another. It’s our default setting. But, as we grow from childhood to adulthood a lot of other stuff gets in the way. We can get distanced from our sense of oneness with others by our upbringing and experiences, social conditioning, stereotypes and stigma, and systemic barriers in our societies and organizations. We can lose our way, and it takes some gentle nudging to get back on the path.
To be sure, programs and schools often need to make adjustments to their environments and activities to support children with additional needs, and preparing for this is critical. But, ideally, you do this in the spirit of co-creation with the child and the family. It’s impossible to anticipate every need and plan ahead for it. There is no way to pre-fabricate a completely accessible and inclusive program that will meet every need. Being inclusive is much more about being welcoming and willing to be flexible in what you offer and how you offer it. This is especially true when it comes to children, as they change and develop so rapidly that any accommodations made will likely need to be frequently revisited, and adapted as necessary.
This idea of being “ready” reminds me of the adage about pregnancy. If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you will probably never do it.
The process of inclusion is a learning journey for everyone involved. Why not start as soon as you can?
Chief Inclusionista and CEO
Kids Included Together (KIT)