I have been reading a report – Communicating about Disability in Australia: Insights, Challenges, and Opportunities (June 23). The link to it as at the bottom.
It’s a useful document but I got distracted by the use of the term “full inclusion”. We use the term “inclusion” for very good reasons. There are times when modifications and accommodations can make a situation more inclusive for a person with disability. It can be anything from speaking distinctly and not hurriedly to meet the needs of a person relying on lip-reading to adding usable handrails to stairs or ramps as well as stairs. And it can mean a great deal more when we modify our attitudes and behaviours to overcome bias.
But the idea of ‘full inclusion’ struck me as potentially problematic because it could imply some ideal state which was neither realistic nor reasonable.
How inclusive should we be?
I agree that we have a collective duty to ensure that public spaces and shared workspaces must be accessible for as many people as possible – to ensure that those who want access them and be included in their activities can fulfill their wishes. Public places are for all of us, so non-inclusive designs and constructions are not okay. Inclusion in workplaces for employees with disability is generally acknowledged as a right that is widely honoured – if imperfectly and often tardily.
But as a person who lives with a disability I see a vital distinction between disability-related inclusion and inclusion on a wider scale. There are some situations which, by their nature, demand an inclusive attitude, and others that do not. There are some situations where my disability would be grounds for exclusion. I could not, for example, sensibly seek to become a member of a football team.
As I was reading the report the idea of ‘includability’ struck me. Many years ago, I worked with profoundly disabled people. It seemed their level of disability eclipsed their personhood, and they were seen as deeply dysfunctional beings with whom no human-to-human connection could be usefully made. This wasn’t true, but the presumption closed off efforts to falsify it for most people. But I found it impossible to switch off my desire to know who I was working with – bathing, feeding, toileting. There was always somebody there who responded to my acknowledgement of their presence. A relationship was possible. Some level of intentional and conscious inclusion was possible. It was not, however, required or even desired. In fact, it was actively discouraged.
These ‘patients’ (as they were known) had a base level of includability – an acknowledgement of their humanity. That’s the least we could offer. Sometimes it may have seemed that even doing this taxed our sense of inclusion. For ‘them’ to be one of us on a personal rather than a biological level challenged our ability to be empathic and inclusive. The fact that they were biologically human triggered a sense of obligation to be cared for, though it was mostly controlled. But they weren’t one of us on a personal level.
To the extent that disability impairs how we function it can limit the scenarios in which we can be included. But a whole bunch of other things can add to these limits – our interests, our knowledge, our beliefs, our character, our personality, our looks. Take away ‘disability’ and the other limits remain – and to them we can add gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity, age. We can’t just think of inclusion in disability terms. It’s a universal concern for us all.
If we can imagine there’s such a thing as an ‘includability score’ some attributes can discount that score but they are utterly irrelevant in some settings. My reliance on Canadian crutches is an issue when it comes to tennis, but not chess. Like probably all folks, I’d like my ‘includability score’ to be as high as I can get it. A lot of that will be down to me owning personal attributes only I can modify.
You can contribute to my ‘includability score’ by not incorrectly imputing attributes derived from your encounter with my disability as negatives against my value or integrity as a person. You can discount my ‘includability score’ to suit your biases, and not as a reflection of my value. Includability is shared and is dependent upon everyone’s ability to participate intentionally.
The report explores attitudes toward people living with a disability and how those attitudes impose upon such people an imagined social destiny. Disability is complex – from narrowly limiting an ability to function well in a community to overwhelming a social sense of personhood. Stripping another of their humanity can be self-protective because it maintains a sense of personhood within an agreeable boundary for us. What is beyond is not to be confronted honestly, let alone embraced with kindness.
Disability is on a spectrum reflecting the degree to which it impinges upon identity – as a lived experience and as perceived – and there is often a gulf between those two values. We must allow that the lived experience value trumps the perceived value in most instances.
Its against this complexity that the idea of ‘full inclusion’ irks me. It may have a meaning that I might find agreeable eventually. But I don’t think the idea can be allowed to fun free outside a corral of caveats.
The best any of us can hope for is to maximise our ‘includability score’, and that may oblige members of our community, wishing for greater inclusion, to adjust their assumptions about disability and personhood. Those who are merely indifferent, and those cemented in their unkind views, will be harder to persuade toward a more generous perspective.
We evolve as a community toward a kinder, more inclusive, environment because, as individuals, we are mostly moved to go in that direction. Wanting that change is part of the evolutionary journey. Crafting the tools of change through ideas and the language to carry them is a vital component of the same journey.
Movement toward the desired outcome of the shared passion for Disability Inclusion can get stuck in the deep sands of habit and unsettled by the novelty of the idea. Our communities are new in the scheme of things. Diverse pluralistic communities aren’t like tribes or villages where our instincts for inclusion were built on communal intimacy. Inclusiveness is emergent in this current setting. It must be nurtured with wisely chosen words and actions.
We are all inherently includable. To what degree we are included is dependent upon how we are seen and valued by others, and to what extent we can influence our own attributes.