| Mar 26, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - March 26, 2009 Thoughts on InclusionBy Community Living Staff

“All we are asking for is a level playing field so that those with disabilities have the support in place to enjoy all the rights and freedoms already enshrined in law and afforded Canadians without disabilities” - Laurie Beachell, Council of Canadians with Disabilities

With the closing of the last of Ontario’s Institutions occurring on the 31st of this month, we at Community Living- North Frontenac thought this would be an appropriate time to discuss the idea of inclusion and what it means to us in the community living movement.

Inclusion means different things for different people. In our field it usually means the act of a person, community, workplace or organization treating people with disabilities in a respectful, fair manner, offering the same opportunities and choices able-bodied people receive, and having everyone, regardless of their ability, feel welcome, respected and included in all aspects of their activities.

It is not enough to just acknowledge people with a disability and allow them to watch from the sidelines; to be truly inclusive there must be room for everyone to participate and be heard. All of us have the need to feel included, to participate, and to feel we have been listened to. This is especially true for persons with disabilities, as many have been isolated, shunned and feel they have not been heard for most of their lives. For those who have left institutions since the closings have been announced, this issue is particularly relevant, as they will now be moving back to their home communities after being absent for many years, or moving to places where they may not know anyone or are unfamiliar with the area.

Think about the last time you moved to a new town or started a new job. How did you feel? Were there people there who helped you feel welcome, showed you the ropes, took you around and introduced you to co-workers or new friends? Did someone say, “Come with me, a few of us are going out after work; you should come along”?

Sadly, for most people with disabilities these naturally occurring friendships and opportunities for inclusion do not always come easily. Some people may not have the social skills or the courage to step up and ask to be included or say, “Can I go with you?” or “How would you like to do something together after work?”.

On the other side of the coin many people without disabilities may be scared, nervous, embarrassed or unsure of how to ask someone with a disability to come and join them, sit with them, go to a dance, or out to watch a sporting event. The secret is, there is no secret. People with disabilities are just that, people who happen to have a disability. They have the same needs, wants and desires as the rest of us, except they may have trouble communicating those needs effectively.

So, how do you help people feel welcome and included in your community?

Well, how do people help you feel welcome and included in your community? It is the small things most of us take for granted that make us feel included: the kind word of encouragement, the invitation to a party, the offer to come over for dinner, a visit and a cup of tea, being asked to play on a sports team, or hanging out with a couple of close friends.

Many people with disabilities have not had the opportunities to enjoy the experiences of inclusiveness and friendship that most of us take for granted. Sometimes we may need to take that first step and reach out. It can take a lot of courage to stand up and help someone new or different to feel truly welcome and included. We invite you to be courageous.

“Inclusion is a basic human right. What’s more, time and time again it has proven to be the best way to ensure quality of life for children with intellectual disabilities.” - Dixie Mitchell, New Brunswick Association for Community Living

With the official closing of Institutions in Ontario set for March 31, we invite all of you to come mark this momentous occasion. Join us at 5:30 p.m. at the Anglican church hall across from Community Living -North Frontenac, in Sharbot Lake. There will be light refreshments and a reflective observance, followed by a documentary film that explores people’s experiences while institutionalized, and the challenges and triumphs they faced living their life with a disability.

At Community Living-North Frontenac we are always looking for volunteers to assist us in a variety of capacities. If you have some time on your hands and would like to join us as we embark on this new era in Community Living, please call us at (613) 279-3731 or (613) 279-2120. 

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