Unpacking the Journey

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Every now and again my own rhetoric gets taken down a notch. I spent a few hours digging down into inclusion, not as a thought experiment, but as an analysis of the “state of the state” in inclusive post-secondary education in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States. One might think that the idea of people with intellectual disabilities in university is not one relevant to the inclusive work in India, but these days most everything I engage myself in seems to lead to my relating it to the national ‘state of the state’ of people with disability in India.

My colleagues and I were lamenting the fact that so few “inclusive post-secondary” initiatives have a vision for the full inclusion of students with intellectual disability in regular campus life (feeling a bit superior, I might add, since WE all seem to be so clear). As good human service inclusivity-types, we immediately began talking about “the journey” of inclusion remarking that “as long as they are on the path” we are good, and incremental progress is what matters.

The man responsible for the very first inclusive post-secondary program in North America, started in 1986, spoke up. He reminded us, unequivocally, that inclusion of people with disabilities is not a journey. In fact, decisions were made all along the way that caused segregation and that prevented people from experiencing typical places, people, activities, and societal roles that more valued people take for granted. This brought the discussion to a sudden stop, as we all sensed the truth and the strength of this statement.

Inclusion, by which I mean the inclusion of people with disability into everyday life and all its aspects, often gets referred to using the metaphor of a “journey”. In fact, the work Keystone Institute India is involved in has been conceptualized as supporting practices which move away from segregation and towards inclusion – a journey per se.

Indeed, there are many ways that “inclusion” gets conceptualized. These metaphors may make “inclusion” seem easier, may soften the sting of segregation, and may be forgiving to us who hold these mindsets.

  • Inclusion as philosophy/ideology/value: Inclusion is an idea, a ‘state of mind’,  not an action – holding the idea is enough, and no action really needs to be taken
  • Inclusion as theory (An idea which can be proven or dis-proven as to its merit or validity)
  • Inclusion as feeling (as long as I and others “feel” good, are happy, and feel like we belong, that’s good enough)
  • Inclusion as ‘the dream’ (we may never “get there”, that is perfectly OK, and we can look longingly at it as people continue to be segregated and left out for another decade or two)

I think we would do well to study these conceptualizations, for each seems to pose some dangers and within each sits the potential to hold us back. In India, discussions about inclusion are everywhere. I think we need to hold our promotion of inclusion to a rigorous standard. We need to challenge each other to define what we mean by inclusion. I have started to use the definition of integration used within Social Role Valorization in my talks and consultation on inclusion, and it is often is a bit of a hard pill to swallow. Doing “typical things with typical people in typical ways in typical places” is the shorthand I use for this, and it seems to cause a pause maybe a bit similar to the one in that meeting about post-secondary. A pause that we should, in trying to ease the way forward, be mindful that sometimes we need to tell the truth clearly. Say it out loud. Acknowledge it. Then move on, stronger and more sure, and a little less likely to listen to the lullaby of “it’s a journey”. We do need to be purposeful, clear, committed, and truthful.

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