Accommodation is NOT Inclusion

Too often we convince ourselves that making structural changes to meet an individual's needs is all it takes to become an inclusive community. Physical, academic and other accommodations are necessary to ensure that people with disabilities have full access and can succeed, to be sure, but such changes are not sufficient in and of themselves to deem a community inclusive.

Join me for a conversation called "Accommodation is NOT Inclusion" at Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, New Jersey on Monday, March 30. The program is free of charge and open to the community.

Lisa Friedman at Temple Shalom, Aberdeen; Removing the Stumbling Block

Inclusion Doesn't Happen Down the Hall

Meaningful Engagement; Removing the Stumbling Block

I was fortunate to once again be invited to participate in an Inclusive Class podcast. The hosts, Nicole and Terri, changed the format this year to roundtable discussions. This meant that I had the opportunity to chat with not only Nicole and Terri, but also with Torrie Dunlap, the CEO of Kids Included Together (KIT). It made for a dynamic discussion and it continues to be a pleasure for me to learn from like-minded individuals who care deeply about inclusion and inclusive education.

Listen to the full show: Inclusion Doesn’t Happen Down the Hall

In preparing for the podcast, I wrote some thoughts:

The two things that are resonating most significantly with me are the title of today’s show: Inclusion Doesn’t Happen Down the Hall and the idea that Torrie raised of “meaningful inclusion”.

I love today’s title, because I often write and speak about the idea that inclusion is not a program. It’s not a classroom in the school or a person or a single event. Rather, inclusion is an attitude, a mindset, a way of thinking about and acting toward others. I work hard to help people realize that there needs to be a culture of inclusion that everyone in a school, community or organization shares. Inclusion will not be successful when it is relegated to one space, one point in time or is given over as one person’s responsibility.

The idea of authentic, or as Torrie suggested, meaningful inclusion, is one that can be hard for people. None of us can determine what meaningful is or means for anyone else - in any area of life. And yet, when it comes to disabilities, this is often exactly what happens. We talk a lot about meaningful engagement in the Jewish world, both with and without discussion of disability inclusion. And what I always come back to is that “meaningful” is unique to each person - so we, as a community, have to be ok with what each person deems as his/her own meaningful engagement, whether we agree or not.

Normal is a Dryer Setting

I've written before about the idea of "normal." I believe it's an arbitrary concept, because what might be normal for you wouldn't necessarily be normal for me. And yet, we use the word all the time. Sometimes in seemingly innocuous ways, and other times in ways to imply that those who do not meet our standards are deficient and lesser.

It's not ok. Seriously. We have to do something about it. I'm just honestly not sure what it is. Although I am pretty sure working to shape a culture of inclusion helps.

Humor might help, too. I can't be the only one that enjoys a good poke at normal. 

normal minion, removing the stumbling block

And then, of course, there's simple truth:

What are your thoughts about the concept of normal?

A Word of Caution as Jewish Disability Awareness Month Ends

When we commit ourselves, we can be inclusive; Removing the Stumbling Block

Whew. We made it. Another JDAM in the books. Quite a few people have heard me refer to February as tax season for those of us in the Jewish disability inclusion world. I am glad we do it, but I am not sad to see the month come to an end.

It was a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness while highlighting the many great resources and opportunities that already exist within our communities. Personally, I also hope that it has and will lead to the opening of new doors that were once closed.

But before the congratulatory pats on the back for great programs and events, I want to make a request. In a world that still focuses heavily on programs over relationships, I worry that JDAM itself becomes the answer for some communities. I want you to remember that in and of itself, JDAM is NOT inclusion. No one program is inclusion.

Inclusion is a mindset. Inclusion is a way of thinking. It is how we behave and treat one another. It is a philosophy that embraces the idea that everyone has something of value to contribute and that everyone has a right to belong. When we commit ourselves to making our programs accessible – not just in the physical sense, but by ensuring that each person’s participation is truly meaningful – then we can call ourselves inclusive. Then we can pat ourselves on the back and celebrate our success. But we are not there yet.

So use the inspiration that the month of February provided and move your community forward.

In case you missed:
My first post of the month includes links to many of the other terrific JDAM articles.

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