The blog was written by Jacqueline Daniel; founder of ConnectAbility in Dahlonega, Georgia; and a recent participant on the Connect Kalamazoo and Arcadia Institute Learning Journey. Jacque came to Kalamazoo with three other women from Georgia and one from Colorado to learn about what Kalamazoo is doing to become a a community where everyone belongs. The questions that I wanted to answer as a member of the Arcadia Institute Learning Journey swirled in my head: How do people that lead community organizations think about inclusion when it comes to their programs? What are their thoughts and questions? How is it possible for people who don’t know about disabilities to lead inclusive programs?
After visiting 9 different organizations and seeing firsthand how inclusion is a seamless part of their programs, the answers to my questions emerged in themes. These themes came up over and over with the different organizations we visited.
• We are open to inclusion – we just need help with “how” to make it work
• Focus on the positive: we want to find out what people/campers can do, not what type of disability they may (or may not) have
• Consider inclusion broadly: How can we be inclusive of people across race, socio economics, disability, etc.
• Behavior is communication
• Being inclusive is the best for everyone – what’s good for people with disabilities is good for everyone.
• Being inclusive is good for business!
• We will need support sometimes and we are ok with asking for it
• People are people first
So, how is it possible for people who don’t know about disabilities to lead inclusive programs? Well, it turns out to be very simple: approaching with a positive expectation and providing supports as needed is how the Arcadia Institute makes is work!
Really getting to know the individuals with and without disabilities and understanding their preferences and talents is the place to start. The program leaders focus on what they are good at – leading their great camps, programs, libraries – and call on support from the Arcadia Institute when they need a fresh perspective or an expert opinion on how to best handle a situation.
What I saw in Kalamazoo was a culture of inclusion – not an “awareness” or “support” movement. Simply people with similar interests sharing experiences together. It was a beautiful sight and one that I long to see in my home state of Georgia.
Keep up the good work Kalamazoo!