Regardless of whether a person has a disability or not, we all want to connect. We all want to have a ‘place’ where we belong. When I refer to the concept of place, I do not mean the bricks and mortar of a building. I did not join the Fitness Center I go to because of the physical space or equipment. I joined because from the first day I walked through the door, I was treated as a member of the larger group.
Community in the broadest terms creates a sense of belonging for members of a group.[i] When you consider it, all of us, regardless of disability, are members of small groups or communities including where we work, where we play, and in general where we live. In the context of inclusion, I am defining community as a place where people are brought together by a common interest. People share values including commitment, mutuality, and expectancy.
As a member of a local Fitness Center, I am an active participant with my peers with and without disabilities. We all go through the Fitness Center doors to workout; improve our health, and overall wellness.
I have read numerous articles about inclusion as a philosophy. In the articles, inclusion is categorized as people with and without disabilities receiving appropriate supports in a common space.[ii]
Authentic inclusion is not just about space, the built environment, or allowing people through the door. It is not just about people interacting together. Authentic inclusion is a complex dynamic which builds community in a very proactive way.
I have a concept of inclusion that I have applied in my own life. To me, inclusion is active participation in age-appropriate activities. Inclusion in practice means that I am a part of a larger group, contributing, and interacting with diverse members. Regardless of the diagnosis of Spastic Cerebral Palsy, I become a member of a community—a larger group with similar goals. Authentic inclusion means I am embraced and accepted based on my contributions in a larger group.
Authentic inclusion means building that sense of community— fostering the idea and the feeling that I, Kerry Wiley, am welcomed and belong in this space, just like every other person. When Authentic inclusion happens staff and employees at the Fitness Center can serve as the connectors to the other members.
“Kris, I would like you to meet Kerry. Kerry came to us to improve her health and mobility”. Through a simple, deliberate, and informed introduction, a person can be brought into the mission and the culture, and common practices of the group.
Over many years in the local Fitness Center, I have been encouraged by members in this community to achieve defined goals. I have been encouraged to pick myself up and try again in times of failure.
Authentic inclusion is organic and dynamic. When it happens, it is not just me on my own anymore. There was a broader “we”. People with disabilities in my experience need more opportunities for authentic inclusion—to be a part of a larger group with similar goals, to be embraced, and contributing.
Tell me, Wiley’s Walk readers, what does Authentic inclusion mean to you?
[i] Crow, G. and Allan, G. (1994) Community Life. An introduction to local social relations, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
[ii] Place, K., & Hodge, S. R. (2001). Social inclusion of students with physical disabilities in general physical education: A behavioral analysis. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 18(4), 389-404.