Being Intentional About Inclusion

The mission of The Arcadia Institute “Making it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community.” Although our founder, George Martin moved his passion in this area beyond his heart and into an organization devoted to this important work, inclusion is the responsibility of everyone, every organization and every institution if you say that you exist to provide services and work with individuals within your community. I was fortunate to be a recipient of intention as a registrant at the recent Scientific Meeting of the American College of Physicians from April 30-May 2 of this year. The conference was held in Boston at the World Trade Center “Celebrating a Century of Leading Internal Medicine, Improving Lives”. The first round of inclusion started when my former doctor whom has since become a friend, invited me to be her guest at the conference. She also does community organizing and partners with me in health prevention with marginalized girls of color. Dr. Marguerite Saith is very intentional about inclusion because it was a family value that she grew up with. She serves on the advisory council of Gurlz of Color:Set4Life!, which is an initiative of the Media Arts Academy that targets complex empowerment opportunities for developing young girls of color as leaders.

Intentional inclusion was very apparent from day one of the conference as I quickly observed that scooters were made available for person with mobility challenges. Although the sessions did not have any signing or braille material available, the options for alternative access to the various formats could be requested through an application that was made available. The huge exhibit hall was easily accessible to and through each of the myriad of displays and booths. I was concerned about being able to identify presentations that I could attend that would not be over my head. However, the non-medical presentations were excellent and relevant and well attended by members of the medical field as well.

Dr. Saith and I will be preparing a Community-Based presentation of our findings: her from a medical perspective and me from a community-based perspective. Details will be made available on the website and through Connect Kalamazoo links. But, I will give you a glimpse of the presentation by a gentleman who was diagnosed at an early age with Muscular Dystrophy. The stories he told included several steps along the road of his challenging journey to be included. He spoke of his encounters with supportive service providers as well as with mainstream providers who lacked an inclusive, intentional lens. He overcame hurdle after hurdle to go on to graduate from high school, undergrad and a Masters program. He is currently married with children and continues the fight for improved quality of life and inclusion on a daily basis. The greatest takeaway at the end of his message was when I rolled up in my wheelchair to appreciate his words. I was close enough by when the administrators of the conference were so moved by his stories, that they offered him a full time position within the American College of Physicians to become a consultant to their curriculum, programs and services. He too had been invited years ago by his doctor to attend a conference that began to empower him even back then. Hopefully his impact will leave an even more lasting legacy in a very important branch of service provision.

In closing, although I described my encounters with an international and national medical organization that is considered specialized, inclusion is the responsibility of everyone, every organization and every institution, if you say that you exist to provide services and work with individuals within your community then there should be some evidence of that lens in how you do business. Opportunities are all around us daily, to consider beyond our automatic and sometimes programmed actions and interactions, when it comes to inclusion. Accommodations should be considered intentional not a burdensome request to be negotiated. The game changes when you or your family end up on the need-to-receive end. I truly benefitted from the opportunity for such international exposure to an event where my voice and presence became an addition to the fabric of what were some of the takeaways.

As I shared with several attendees of the work that we do as a Community Brokers, one of the administrators of the organization asked for my card so that she could follow up. I spoke of the opportunity for considering community brokering as a component of how they may improve the provision of more authentically serving their patients. So I challenge you to grab more than your keys on your way out of the door tomorrow. Make sure your intentional inclusion lens is with you as you move about and through your friends, family and this community. Leave a lasting impact that makes it better for both now and for generations to come. Some of these changes are policy and procedure but the most important changes are personal.