What does Inclusion really mean? And why is it better than awareness?
Every April, we hear about “Autism Awareness” but we don’t hear anything about “Autism Inclusion” and that is what is REALLY going to make a difference. This is why we’ve ditched Autism Awareness Month, and rebranded it Autism Inclusion Month.
You have probably heard the word inclusion thrown around (it’s a bit of a buzz word of late), especially in regards to people on the autism spectrum, but what does inclusion mean, and how can you put it into meaningful practice to ACTUALLY include those with other abilities around you?
Dictionary definition of Inclusion:
Inclusion is the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have a disability and members of other minority groups.
What does inclusion look like?
Inclusion exists when whole communities tackle physical, social and attitudinal barriers to participation. There are many ways we as a community can contribute to being more inclusive.
Here are some other inclusion examples which you may see on a day-to-day basis:
- Braille on toilet signs
- Quiet hours at shopping centres, swimming pools and cinemas
- Workplace modifications whereby staff can wear headphones and not be interrupted, if they are feeling overstimulated and need some deep thinking time.
- Workplaces having a variety of recruitment options for staff (e.g. to accommodate preference for written communication or to interview after hours when it is quieter.)
- Easy-read or audible website text
- Including “Image descriptions” when presenting or posting information on social media. Pictured below left.
- Beach wheelchairs and beach mats which make it possible for a person to access the beach in their own wheelchair.
- Adapting old school ‘one size fits all’ approaches to many different learning styles (e.g. making a visual schedule available for everyone in class, or learning key word sign as an additional way to communicate in the classroom)
- Emergency responders including a sensory and communication toolkit when responding to a call-out. Pictured below right.
- Dental surgeries having weighted blankets to reduce anxiety during dental procedures
Autism Swim Dippers Program
Autism Swim’s Dippers program is an example of inclusion and provides access to skills and learning opportunities that would be otherwise unavailable to its participants.
Quote from Dippers parent - “We had looked at a few programs to help the boys learn some water safety skills, even ones supposedly for special needs, however the list of requirements they had to meet before they could sign up meant that they would never be able to do it. It was disheartening. One info sheet even stated they “must have the ability to follow directions”. My boys are good kids, but they have Autism and sensory needs that make following directions tricky at the best of times, let alone on a crowded beach surrounded by strangers. I felt there was no way we would be able to attend these programs. But Autism Swim’s Dippers wasn’t anything like that! They work collaboratively with the parents, on individual goals, and genuinely make the boys feel included, just like every other kid. I am so thankful we found them and the boys have loved every minute of it”.
Basically, inclusion means EVERYONE can access and enjoy their community when and how they choose. Not excluding people, is not the same as including them. You could build a building with a spiral staircase entryway, and say “why, yes, of course we are open to everyone!” but if someone in a wheelchair can’t get up those stairs, then you are not inclusive! Inclusion relies on one group looking at another group and inviting them in. Inclusion is not charity. It’s not doing ‘good’. It’s a universal human right. It’s simply doing what needs to be done, to cater to the many amazing individuals in this world who have specific needs and preferences (as we all do).
Not sure where to start in being more inclusive?
Using the right language may be a good starting place. That’s why we’ve been working on the Autism Swim Languages Guideline, to help you!. It’s free and downloadable from our website. Check it out! What’s one specific thing you can do this week (be it in your personal life, work life, extra curricular activities etc) which shows an active step in the direction of being more inclusive?