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  • Posted October 21, 2019

What Inclusion Means to Me

This year (2019) there’s a push by some to have kids with Autism go trick or treating with a blue bucket. No surprise, there’s those who say this doesn’t promote inclusion, rather it highlights a child’s disability. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about the bucket, but I do have very strong feelings about inclusion, and what I think it means for my son.

To me, inclusion means my son has the same opportunities to succeed or fail as anyone else – not contingent on his disability. Recently he’s started using public transportation to get to/from his school. I applaud the school’s willingness to work with us on this, all they asked was I concur they would not be liable should something happen to him – because he is no longer using transportation provided by the County. I had no issue with this, in a few years he’s going to be doing so anyway – I’d rather get it started when I have a known entity where his final destination is to check in and let me know he’s arrived.

Rather than use the punch cards the school purchases, I downloaded a monthly pass to his phone. To me this is more inclusive – most of us are using apps on our phones almost daily, it shouldn’t call any attention to him. He doesn’t have to speak, he does need to transfer to another bus; but the app’s monthly pass allows him to board as many buses in a given day as he wants. Again, not unusual – I don’t feel anyone will think twice about him just showing his phone and sitting quietly.

This is what inclusion means to me. Giving my son the ability to participate just like anyone else – without calling attention to his disability. Yes, I will absolutely fight to get him any supports he may need; but rather than start this way I’d rather see what he can do using technology and “natural supports”. There are so many new innovations – Apple/Samsung Pay enable payment from your cell phone; many places allow you to order food using your phone, pay and pick it up w/o interacting with a cashier; Uber & Lyft provide transportation options – again without requiring interactions.

Sure, some may think you’re “rude” – but in my opinion this is a minority. Overall I don’t think anyone will give it a second’s thought. I don’t see a reason to call attention to my son’s disability. I’d much rather he interact with the world at large and they never know. Why should they? How does his disability impact their lives? In cases where it’s to his benefit – for example should he need supports at College or work – then absolutely; but I will encourage him to disclose to the least number of people as possible.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but the way I see it too many people see disabilities as limiting. I’d much rather have someone learn of my son’s disability after they’ve known him for a while, because (again just my opinion) it won’t be a big deal. There should be no reason for them to start treating him differently, after all they’ve come to know him “without” the disability – what’s changed?

I understand the push, and need, to raise awareness of the capabilities of those with disabilities. However, I think this will be accomplished much faster by encouraging individuals to integrate into the community to the maximum extent possible before they disclose. To me, this is how we will combat the stigma I feel is associated with disabilities. For those who have more obvious disabilities, maybe this isn’t possible – but they can still work towards being as independent as possible.

In my “perfect” world someone with Down Syndrome doesn’t gather any more attention than someone who has brown hair. We’re a long way from this reality, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Every day I see evidence the world is becoming more accepting; and although there continue to be negative events I’m going to continue to focus on what’s going right. I feel the more we publicly celebrate our wins, the better. Let’s continue to give businesses and society reasons to welcome those with disabilities.