I hear a lot about ‘inclusion’. It’s all part of equality and diversity. I’ve been listening to this for about 30 years (so far). But what does inclusion look like?
Mr Google tells me: Miller and Katz (2002) defined inclusion as: “.. a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best.”
That sounds about right. The excellent Keys To Inclusion website further states:
Inclusion at its simplest is ‘the state of being included’ but it is a bit more complicated than that… It is used by disability rights activists to promote the idea that all people should be freely and openly accommodated without restrictions or limitations of any kind.
It is described by some as the practice of ensuring that people feel they belong, are engaged, and connected. It is a universal human right whose aim is to embrace all people, irrespective of race, gender, disability or other attribute which can be perceived as different.
Their website goes on to describe some of the effects of being excluded – and the results are startling:
- Young disabled people aged 16 are twice as likely not to be in any form of education, employment or training (NEET) as their non-disabled peers.
- By the age of 26, young disabled people are more than three times as likely as other young people to agree with the statement “whatever I do has no real effect on what happens to me”.
- Forty-nine per cent of disabled people of working age do not work, and disabled people are at considerable risk of living in poverty, with severe consequences for their families and children.
- Around 1 in 4 children in severe poverty live with a disabled adult.
This brings in the impact that exclusion has – not just on the person, but on society. Disengaged, dis-empowered, unemployed, unskilled and dependent adults further down the line; a raft of young people set up to join a long story of social injustice.
It’s taken me 14 years (so far) advocating for my son and other young people to have access to society. Yesterday I felt, for the very first time, a deep sense of inclusion of my son when I arrived a little early at scouts to pick him up along with his little sister.
Geraint was called up twice to receive badges. His utter delight going up a second time was deeply moving and I’m so glad I managed to capture that second. I’ve looked back at the photo many times in the 24 hours since this happened.
I can see the delight of his scout leaders, those who first agreed for him to be a Scout and gave him time and support to raise himself up to the challenge (it is the first time they’ve had a scout in the group who has Down’s Syndrome). I looked also at the faces of the young people sharing this space with him for two hours fortnightly.
Some are smiling, some looking a little unsure. That nervousness is perhaps an important part of their learning to realise that we are all capable of achieving things. Geraint surprised them! By Geraint’s very presence and the slightly different way he approaches life, where he lives so much in the moment that he has no hesitation in celebrating is a lesson he teaches them.
And what was he celebrating? For about a year he has watched many young scouts receive badges at the end of their scout sessions. Until Geraint worked out for himself that undertaking certain tasks would produce this result, we just worked on having him take part on some level in the scout session. His triumph was all the sweeter for that.
Geraint’s exuberant response looked like a moment where he celebrated his sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who he is; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that he can do his best.
That’s what inclusion looks like – and FEELS like.