Not Everyone Defines Inclusion the Same Way

The blog this week was written by George T. Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. One of the more frustrating aspects of trying to persuade people to change the ways they deliver services and provide support for people with disabilities is the way terms to describe change are used. The current use of the term ‘inclusion’ presents a major challenge today.

In our work at the Institute we define ‘inclusion’ as full participation in any area of the common life that an individual with a disability chooses. It means involvement side by side, as an equal, with people who are not labeled as having a disability. It does not mean being assigned to a special program in which only people with disabilities take part, even if that special program occurs in the same place, such as a gym, where people without disabilities engage in activities.

We often encounter people who use ‘inclusion’ to mean taking part in activities as one in a group of people with disabilities, such as going shopping with a group of seven or eight, led by a staff person from an agency. Another common example of this kind of confusion is people with disabilities attending the same concert but arriving in a specially marked vehicle owned by an agency and all sitting together.

When we assume that we mean the same thing by words we often create a gap in understanding, rather than bridge such a gap. It then becomes necessary to engage in true dialogue in order to have a common understanding. This problem is further complicated when another party consciously confuses the terms, but in many situations I have found that people honestly believe that they are trying to achieve the same outcomes that we are.

As we move ahead in the Kalamazoo community, this confusion over the meaning of ‘inclusion’ will only increase as people speak in broad terms about how inclusive we are. We will need to work hard to insure that our words disclose our true intentions, rather than confuse them.