Approximately 8 years ago, I participated in a conference where a diverse group of people with disabilities, their family members, and professionals came together for a day to learn from each other. The conference was designed to promote new ways to connect, form a common mission, and engage.
Prior to attending the conference, I wrote an article about the concept of Burnout and the qualities of burnout that professionals and individuals sometimes fail to recognize when it happens. In short, Burnout refers to long-term exhaustion and disengaging from subjects that are important to us. When a person experiences it, it can cause us to pause and question: “Why am I doing this?”
One of the opening exercises at the conference included a go- round where people were asked to name a person or an event that brought them to the disabilities field. Before I responded, I thought about every person, -past and present who has stood and engaged for me and with me. I stand for every child and adult behind me.
When I started in the disability field, I saw attitudes, environments, and systems that I wanted to influence. I wanted to make my community more inclusive and the communities around me more inclusive. Inclusive to me means creating easier access and participation – both within built environments and simultaneously creating full involvement with my peers, both with and without disabilities. I don’t want to just get to the door, I want to get in and engage.
The concept of inclusion has been around for decades and yet many people with disabilities still fight to not only get in, but to also engage. True engagement to me means participating with every person within a given environment.
Change starts when people come together with a new or reignited spark of passion. The sphere of change grows when people take that passion and start to engage. It happens when we start to observe what exists – when we see the programs and the people that are including people with disabilities every day and it’s just a part of everyday practice. The sphere of change continues to grow when we connect with the people who are doing it and ask, “How do I do it?” For successful coalition development, groups of people need to come together with a common goal and engage.
For true inclusion to take root and spread, people need to observe their communities and identify what resources currently exist, gather data, engage, and form nontraditional partnerships between individuals, families, schools, community-based organizations, and businesses to expand what is working.
If you are tired, remember what brought you to the profession. Remember who brought you to the profession, help others that want to not only get in, but actively engage.