What Inclusion Really Means
I can count on one hand the amount of people with disabilities I knew as a kid -- a few from our church and a couple from the neighborhood. I did not know anyone with a disability from my Catholic school, my soccer team or acting class. I don't think anyone with a disability played tag with us or rode bikes with us to the pool. Even though I later worked at a summer camp with kids with disabilities, I still had very few relationships with people with disabilities. I originally studied special education in college until I discovered my other passion -- writing. After a short career in television and a long career in child welfare, I returned to the work I loved, where I felt I most belonged -- advocating for and with people with disabilities.
That singular professional role changed one late summer morning in 2014 when I was 12 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. A prenatal blood test revealed she had Down syndrome. When my doctor told me my baby had Down syndrome, she asked I planned to terminate. Why was this the doctor's narrative? I wondered if it was because this doctor might not have gone to school, grown up with or worked with people with disabilities. I wondered if her own isolated bias impacted her worldview and her approach as our doctor.
Picture a young boy who only sees people with disabilities occasionally when he is at the movies or grocery store, and a group of four to eight people with developmental disabilities, along with a paid staff, shows up. (Those individuals live in a group home and are on a "community outing." This type of outing is what some people call inclusion. But, when you go to the movies or grocery store, do you call it a "community outing?" Probably not. This is not inclusion.) What does that look like to this young boy? He probably sees them as different; not like him.
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