“Inclusion isn’t a word that is commonly used by the general community. However, the word is used quite commonly by people that are fighting for themselves or others for the very right… to be Included”
I have never really known anything else but to be included and accepted in my various communities throughout my life. As a person with a disability, I consider myself blessed that this is so. However, the reality is that not all with disabilities are included as I have been.
On the other side of the coin, I also believe I shouldn’t have to feel guilty, or for that matter even blessed, that for most things I am naturally included. Inclusion is a natural right, and this should not be something I have to seek permission from another person to partake in.
Almost all my life I have been included – with the odd exception. The older I get the more I realize that this has occurred due to some amazing people that have fought the battle behind the scenes. When I was younger, I was just oblivious to it all and had just been doing my thing without a care in the world. Later in my life, I have had some experiences where I have had to fight for what many people may consider a norm. This may be something so dumb as being able to go to a concert and be able to mix with other people rather than just attend with one “Carer”.
As a 30-year-old with a disability, it has only been in recent years where I have had to fight for basic inclusive rights. I have understood how my mother fought the battle mostly by herself. It is only, say, in the last ten years, I have needed to add the word inclusion into my vocabulary.
My educational journey was one where initially I was expected to go to the local special school with others “like me”. My mother all those years ago would have none of this and in all her wisdom ignored the “expert” advice.
Looking back, I wonder what it was (that even back then) she knew EXACTLY the way to an inclusive life was to give me an inclusive school journey. She had the foresight to see that my best opportunity to have a solid crack at life was to start early and build a strong community of people around me. She knew the journey ahead and knew the road I had to travel to navigate to get ahead in life.
This is not to say that people that don’t have this opportunity are doomed for a segregated life. Why wait until you are older to start inclusion if this is the best way to ensure you have access to opportunities and all life has to offer?
This has been a common theme throughout my life and my educational journey has been somewhat like my younger able-bodied brothers. This isn’t to say my life has been all roses and wonderful all the time as it simply is not. There were many times the regular route was tough especially in high school. There were times that perhaps I may have been “happier” in segregated settings but long term I know I would not have remained happier living a segregated life. (Side note: there is a whole new article for another day on defining happiness)
When I think of inclusion, I think of the word opportunity
One cannot help people’s lack of understanding, finesse, political correctness, resources, or even for that matter, one’s ability to assist with certain disabilities.
There are so many diagnoses now that even the most educated person would not be able to keep up with it all. Inclusion however is about one’s attitude and willingness to accept that, regardless of the disability, (perceived or real) we can provide the same opportunities as those without disabilities.
When we have opportunities, the world is ours and we can achieve what some may deem impossible. I genuinely believe ALL schools and ALL communities can be accessible. The naysayers may think – “Can a 3-story school without a lift for a wheelchair user be inclusive?” I genuinely believe so.
Inclusion does not start with resources, equipment, or more teacher hours. An inclusive community does not need unlimited resources to be inclusive. All that is needed is a change of perception and a willingness to see value in diversity. When we change how we think all the other things fall into line later on. When we adjust how we think we then consider things like universal design and other measures that overcome some of the physical barriers to inclusion.
Sometimes money will be required to adjust past wrongs in the way things have been designed but very often not. Our biggest barrier to inclusion is not the physical ones but the perceptions. Perceptions that people that are different require different community resources to have needs met.
I long for the day that the word “inclusion” is just another random word for me and my friends that have disabilities. We are not quite there yet. I was spoilt throughout my school life and despite some non-inclusive experiences, that have required self-advocacy throughout my adult life, I still believe in this is becoming the norm. When this occurs I believe my entire community (both locally and far and wide) will become richer for it. This may sound like some utopian place far off in the future but even if I didn’t have a disability this is where I would want to live. Who wants to live in this place with me?
About the Writer:
Marlena Katene is Australia’s most unique entertainment journalist. Having Cerebral Palsy Marlena communicates via an ABC Board and iPad. After completing her Bachelor of Communications degree Marlena has been blessed to interview a wide range of people ranging from Ed Sheeran, Robbie Williams and even the Dalia Lama. While her journalism focuses mainly on music she also has written on other issues and freelance writes for a variety of magazines. Apart from her journalism work, Marlena is an avid traveller and adventure seeker. In 2016 she became the first person in the world with Cerebral Palsy to Base jump, achieving this feat by jumping off the 421 metre KL Tower in Malaysia. Addicted to travelling she is always seeking the next adventure and place to explore.