What does inclusion mean for me?

Inclusion is a buzz word when thinking about disabled people in society, but what does true inclusion mean?  Today is International Day of People with Disabilities, with the focus on ‘fighting for rights in a post-COVID era’ and I’ve written about this in a blog post for the Diana Award here: Blog – The Diana Award (diana-award.org.uk)

I actually prefer the term ‘disabled people’, because I am not defined by my physical disabilities, although I am ‘disabled’ by a society which is designed for the able bodied and therefore not fully inclusive.  Often inclusion is reduced to a box ticking exercise done by able bodied people who assume they know what works for disability.  One of the straplines for today is ‘nothing about us without us’; in other words, true inclusion involves asking what works for us.  In many settings this involves putting basic access in place like for example a ramp into a building, and then crucially having a conversation with an individual about what will help them be included.  In September I wrote a presentation for Through the Roof on what inclusion means in church, which you can see here: Eye Can Make a Difference – YouTube.  If you hoped this post would give you general tips for inclusion here are my thoughts: it starts with a mindset and attitude that everyone is valuable and should be included; physical and metaphorical barriers should be taken away; ask, ask and ask again – what works in one situation might not work in another, and what helps one person doesn’t necessarily help another.  With that in mind the rest of this post is about what helps me, if you are hoping for more general ideas on inclusion you should finish reading now! 

For me, the best inclusion involves an amount of information sharing on the part of the leader of the group I am in, and hours of preparation from me.  When questions are sent in advance I can prepare some answers, and then in a group I can listen to other people’s ideas and respond with one word answers.  Spelling takes time and I can’t spell and listen at the same time.  During conversations I take time to write my answer, and the best people are prepared to wait, and to look at me whilst I am speaking rather than my communication partner who is speaking out loud what I write.  Despite writing a book, there are still professionals in health who talk to me as if I’m a deaf toddler; louder, in a higher pitch and in simple sentences. This ‘special’ talk is demeaning and the antithesis of inclusion.

Since COVID I have benefitted hugely from online Zoom meetings and one of the meetings I join is a PhD focus group.  Sarah, who runs the group, has written a blog about how I access and am included in the group, which you can read here: Accessibility, equality, equity, inclusion… – Back Pocket Teacher (wordpress.com).  She concludes: ‘There are still many inclusion battles to be won, but with determination, creativity and the use of 21st century technology we can all achieve so much more.’

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