Inclusion: It’s Not Rocket Science, But it Does Take Effort

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Inclusion is a word that is not difficult to understand; simply put, it means making others a part of your group. Yet, somehow this is still a challenging concept when applied to the special needs and disabled communities. We most often hear about inclusion as it pertains to education, but opportunities for inclusion exist throughout our society and at home.

Our family’s policy has, and always will be, if we can’t adapt the activity or outing for Olivia, we don’t do it. We were never going to separate or exclude Olivia from her siblings. By teaching our children that we can adapt to change, they developed a deep value of acceptance for their sister’s abilities and needs. I mean this when I say, not once, did they ever complain about not going to the indoor trampoline park or eating at the restaurant that didn’t offer accessible options for their sister. If anything, they were outraged that these considerations weren’t made.

The same can be taught within our schools and communities. If we are to speak about inclusive education, I draw attention to the amazing job our school is doing to model inclusion on a daily basis. We have been in this school, going on, our third year. When we started at this school, Olivia was the only child in a wheelchair and the first with severe Cerebral Palsy. We were a bit apprehensive attending our first school meeting, but were quickly put to ease with the school team’s willingness to listen and embrace Olivia’s needs. What they didn’t know, they were eager to learn. This was so valuable to us! They were open to having me in attendance for her first week, where I taught them about her non-verbal queues and her ability to communicate using an Eye Gaze board. The openness to learn extended to the student body where I was invited to speak about Olivia, and others like her, living with Cerebral Palsy; and how everyone, despite their differences, has ability.

Olivia is fully integrated in her classroom. Her peers know how to communicate with her using eye gaze. Once, in second grade, her teacher actually taught an entire lesson using eye gaze communication, so that Olivia’s peers could understand her abilities better. Her peers have completed lessons on measurement, with an emphasis on designing a fully accessible structure using foam blocks and they often adapt games and activities, on their own, so that Olivia can take part. Some may read all of this and think, why all this for one child? This is not all for one child; every child involved benefits.

The child who develops a sense of compassion for the child who has difficulty controlling their emotions, that was because of one child.

The child who looks past the child wearing braces on their legs and includes them in a game of soccer, that was because of one child.

The child who stands up for injustice or intolerance, when they witness another child being bullied or hurt, that was because of one child.

The child who develops a friendship with the child that is non-verbal, that was because of one child.

The child that recognizes that their friend in a wheelchair can’t use their school playground because of accessible barriers, that is because of one child.

Our children learn from one another. They also learn from the relationships we, as adults, model for them.

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2016: A Great Year For Change

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Well winter is here and a new year has begun. A great time to evoke change! The change I want to see is in accessibility. 

Oh the joys of winter. Walking with a wheelchair over icy banks and navigating around inconsiderate vehicle owners; who block sidewalks (not even bothering to use their entire driveway), forcing us out onto the roads. Because ya know, it’s so easy maneuvering 70 lbs of steel and kid around the ass end of your bumper.

And those icy banks? Don’t even get me started. I mean, how hard would it be to, I don’t know let’s say, NOT dump that load of snow at the end of the walk way!!?? Why not put it on the grass side of the sidewalk or anywhere else!? I’m not a professional snow plow operator, but isn’t the idea to CLEAR areas, not to obstruct them? Call me crazy, but the service you are providing is called SNOW REMOVAL.

Oh and before any nay sayers start harping about why we don’t take the bus? Let me tell you something, we do. We do on stormy days and days that are not fit for walking. But on beautiful, crisp winter mornings, we like to walk. Because it’s everyone’s right. End of story.

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Accessibility is difficult to come by. Period.

You would think it to be only common sense to have the day to day luxuries like walking to school or being able use a public washroom, available to all abilities, but in reality it’s not!

Have you ever tried taking your five year old to a public washroom to change their bottom? Most of you probably have never had to do this. I have. This is our reality and do you know what we are faced with? We get to carefully attempt to change our child on a tiny Baby Change Station, located on the wall of an almost too small accessible washroom; not capable of housing a wheelchair plus Momma plus child. Ah and did I mention, my daughter IS NOT a baby! In a  few occasions the change station has not been within a washroom at all, but outside the stall, near sink areas. I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of showing my hoo-ha to the public; neither should my daughter!

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Does this look comfortable to you?

Our only other option is to change our daughter on the floor of our van. Where is the dignity in either of these choices?

Accessibility shouldn’t have to be a luxury given to few. It is a right for all! So why is it that society has not fully invested in equality for everyone? Why isn’t it something we all should be striving to achieve? Is it because it doesn’t directly affect you or someone close to you? Maybe you weren’t aware there is a great need?

This is what I want to achieve today and the days coming. I want you all to look around at the environment you live, work, shop, frequently visit, restaurants you eat at; and think of children like my daughter, in a wheelchair, still in diapers;  young adults with severe needs, individuals with walkers, canes, stability issues, elderly relatives. If they walked down your street, worked in your office, shopped at the same bookstore or clothing store, ate at your favorite restaurant; could they do so safely? Comfortably? Be respected and have their dignity preserved? If you said no to at least one of these, change is needed! Change must happen. Because it’s 2016 folks!