We all know exclusion well. We’ve all experienced it. I often think of one particular time when I was excluded…
I was seventeen, and I had just had surgery on my voice to remove vocal nodes. (Yes, just like the girl in Pitch Perfect. “They sit on your windpipe and crush your dreams.”) After surgery, I was put on voice rest (no speaking, singing, whispering, or making any sound) for two full weeks. During those two weeks, I experienced what it is like to be nonverbal. I struggled to express my thoughts and feelings. Writing things out seemed to take forever. It was impossible to get anyone’s attention. For the first time in my life, I felt completely invisible.
I was at a graduation party with a large group of friends. We had all just graduated from high school, and we were so excited to spend our last summer at home together. A few of my friends decided that they wanted to play a card game called “Kemps.” If you haven’t heard of it, check out the official rules here— it’s really fun! Put simply, teams of two race to get four cards of a kind. When you think your team member has four of a kind, you yell, “Kemps!” Everyone was splitting into pairs, and I was getting so excited to play. This was one of my favorite games! Then, one of my friends turned to me and said, “Well, Elise, since you can’t talk, you can’t play.” My heart dropped. My stomach lurched. I had to blink away tears. I felt completely devalued. Why didn’t they want me to play with them?
One of my other friends stepped in almost immediately and said, “Why don’t we think of another thing Elise can do if her partner gets Kemps? She doesn’t have to yell out ‘Kemps’ just to play. Maybe she can just hit the table!” I breathed a sigh of relief. Someone wanted me there. Someone wanted me to have the opportunity to play with my friends. It was such a simple solution! It just took a few seconds of problem-solving, and then I was able to play. It ended up being a close game, and to be honest, I don’t even remember who won. But I do remember having a blast playing my favorite game with my best friends.
We have all experienced exclusion at one point in our lives. But we have also experienced inclusion. We all crave that feeling of belonging to a community. I am so grateful to my friend who stepped in that day, making me feel like a valued member of that group. As we lead children of all abilities, it is our duty to make each and every child feel valued in our programs. If we can do that, we have succeeded at our jobs.
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Editor
***Check out our “Accommodations for Games” Webinar Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM PST to see how you can make your games more accessible to kids of all abilities, and start making inclusion a reality for all kids!***
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.