*Your* Part in Creating Cultures of Inclusion
"You set the tone," Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) said to young Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) in the opening episode of the long-running "ER" series. This is true. We do set an example for others by how we interact with people with disabilities in all areas of life: at work, church, on the street, in the grocery store, at our kids' hockey games, in PTA meetings...wherever we are. Chances are that if you're in a group, someone there has some sort of disability, even if it isn't visible.
Management's Part in Creating Cultures of Inclusion
In organizations, though, management has an extra responsibility to "set the tone". The phrase "culture of inclusion" describes an atmosphere where the staff in organizations and the people that they serve are comfortable with the fact that people are different and where people are treated with respect and dignity, as full community members, despite their differences. Good managers are aware of the legislation surrounding disabilities and hiring practices and know the advantages of having a diverse staff. When managers embrace the ideals of cultures of inclusion, it filters down in their policies, the day-to-day of the organization, and the way the organization, whether profit or non-profit, serves the community.
Schools and Cultures of Inclusion
School administrations in particular can have a powerful effect by creating cultures of inclusion among students. Special education programs have been hit hard with budget cuts, and many students who would have had classroom Educational Assistant support in the past will not get it now. But perhaps this will spur educators to think outside the box about the nature of supports that students actually need:
- Given the intensity level, frequency and duration of support that a student needs (not to mention what subjects interest them and what they'd like to do after graduating!), do they really need an EA?
- If the student has an intellectual disability and is low-functioning (for lack of a better word), are there some classes that might interest them as an observer? A music class? A gym class?
- Could volunteer students from the school go with some of the students in segregated special education classes to noon hour events?
Everyone can benefit from seeing students with disabilities participate in school events, and students with disabilities, especially those in segregated special education classrooms, often welcome the opportunities to meet other students and make new friends. In some schools, there isn't much of a chance for anyone to get to know students in segregated classrooms, and that doesn't promote cultures of inclusion. Positive relationships with people with disabilities as children and young adults is going to carry over into adulthood for students without disabilities. Also, these relationships enrich the lives of people with disabilities. Particularly for people with intellectual disabilities, they're an opportunity to try new things and learn valuable interpersonal skills. It's very important that school administrators create opportunities for these relationships to happen.
Even cultures of inclusion that seems forced at first can develop into something more organic and spontaneous, and can benefit everyone. Read about the Heads Up for Inclusion project, which focused on developing cultures of inclusion in several Ontario schools:
So, managers, remember...top-down! *You* set the tone for your organization when it comes to how people with disabilities are treated. Set a good one.