Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Inclusion Spotlight #007: Mark Deaf McGuire

Mark Deaf McGuire

Deaf and hard of hearing advocate Mark McGuire offers insights based on 40-plus years of life experiences.

Thinking inclusive requires different thoughts depending on the disability. Just compare say an inclusive atmosphere for someone autistic and an individual with cerebral palsy. Each involves separate steps to achieve the same result, inclusion. However, at least one essential similarity applies to all disabilities. An open mind! In said spirit, I on Think Inclusive’s behalf happily dust off our spotlight segment to feature deaf advocate Mark McGuire.

No, not Mark McGuire the former home run hitting Major League Baseball player. Rather I recently interviewed the self-branded Mark Deaf McGuire. Born deaf, McGuire grew to become a passionate advocate for his community. McGuire’s life experiences the past 40-plus years make him an ideal candidate to learn from. Our discussion covered harmful stereotypes, accessibility issues in the deaf community, and more. The following contains our conversation’s highlights. Enjoy!

The most damaging misconceptions/stereotypes out there about the deaf/hard of hearing community:

“In my opinion, the most damaging misconception or stereotype in any community is that everyone is equal. The reality is that no one is equal. We are all unique individuals with our own human conditions regardless of whether we were born with these conditions or not. This applies to the language as well as the method of communication we use as individuals. As a whole community, deaf and hard of hearing people share similar communication issues. However, this does not mean as a whole community that all deaf and hard of hearing people uses the same communication methods. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In other words, not all deaf and hard of hearing people know sign language.”

Why someone deaf or hard of hearing would not learn sign language:

“Why do some people not learn more than one language or one method is a good question I often ask. The answers are as diverse as every individual on the planet.

For example, I know how to read and write in English but not Japanese. I can speak but not hear English. I can sign and watch in American Sign Language (ASL) but not Mexican Sign Language (LSM).  Nor do I know how to read or type in Braille.

My experience has shown me that it seems to be the lack of inclusion that leads to a lack of education. A lack of education means we are not able to make the choice to learn more than one language or one method of communication.

There are many (reasons) but two common reasons for this of which both have a ripple effect on all community levels from a nation as a whole to within one’s own family. Country values are one. There are countries where sign language is an official language therefore more support. Other countries, including the USA, which have not recognized sign language as an official language often receive less support.

Secondly there are educational values. Different educational systems have their own idea of what is the right way to educate everyone. As a result, sign language may or may not be part of the program.”

How social media benefits the deaf and hard of hearing community:

“My experience has shown me that there are still barriers on social networks to deal with depending on what’s causing the barrier. However, the number one benefit that seems to be shared among the deaf and hard of hearing community is that they no longer have an audiological barrier to prevent them from reaching out.”

What those outside the deaf and hard of hearing community can do online to increase accessibility:

“What can one do online, regardless of whether it’s on social networks or websites in any type of medium? The answer is as old as the first word that was immortalized forever in stone.

I’m not sure which came first, cave paintings or the rock etchings but the concept and context were “written” down…

Write it down. If you are doing any type of audio like a podcast or video, provide a transcript of every sound being produced on the podcast, whether it is blah blah blah or a burp.

This also goes the other way for sign language. It has to be written down for those who do not know sign language or see it. And yes, that includes writing down a fart sign. What can I tell you? It’s a human condition. If you gotta let it out, let it out.”

Steps those outside the deaf and hard of hearing community can take to ensure pleasant and inclusive interactions in real life:

“The most positive experiences I have enjoyed as a deaf person has been a result of a conscious effort to ensure I am part of the conversation.

While unintentional, it is often within in a group discussion where everyone is signing or talking where the effort falls short.

However, it is the individual(s) within that group that shift from the group attention to a more personalized attention where I often find the biggest degree of success.

It may be a ‘side’ conversation bringing me up to speed ‘they are just blah blah blah’, asking me a question ‘we are trying to figure out…..?’, or even a random conversation ‘did you see that ….?’

The ones who have stood out the most often would make direct ‘personal’ statement to the group by placing themselves directly in front of me. They know the value of having me as part of the conversation and want to make sure everyone knows this.

Even fluent sign language users often make an effort to make sure I am able to follow the signing conversation.

My ASL skills are commendable and I can hold my own. However, my skills are nowhere near the same league as some of the amazing signers I have been fortunate to know.

It is a very positive feeling when someone does this whether it’s signing, talking, or writing, to ensure you know what is going on. There’s no harm or shame in making such an effort.”

To Recap

Keeping an open mind proves vital to establishing an inclusive setting. Such mindset best positions you to solve any possible accessibility barriers. In regards to the deaf and hard of hearing community advocate Mark Deaf McGuire offered some guidelines to follow. First, do not assume everyone in the deaf and hard of hearing community knows sign language. When creating online content, supply a written format. For instance, post a complete transcript with each podcast episode. Amidst real life interactions take conscious action to confirm the person successfully follows along with the conversation.

For more from McGuire visit his website http:/ Connect to him too on Twitter and Facebook. Perchance you possess advice to add, leave a comment below. Want to see Think Inclusive explore what accessibility looks like for a different disability group? Again leave a comment with your suggestion.

Thriving in an Inclusive Fitness Setting

inclusive fitness; barbells lined up against a gym wall

Hello again, after a long absence. Too long! I went missing around here after July 9th. A luxury the site can afford thanks to the great posts from Tim Villegas and various guest bloggers. While away I enjoyed the different offerings provided by an inclusive fitness setting. In the process I achieved new milestones, establishing a new personal best in 5ks (3.1 miles). Plus I completed my goal to walk a half marathon (13.1 miles)!

Zachary Fenell after crossing the finish line to complete his half marathon goal.

Me at the Towpath Marathon Half Marathon finish line October 9th, 2016.

Along the way, I discovered a passion for encouraging others with disabilities to live active lifestyles. Activities like joining a team, going to the gym, or participating in organized athletic events. Sitting down with two others living active lives despite cerebral palsy (CP) remained amongst the initiatives I pursued. Daryl Perry a personal trainer with cerebral palsy. Also Brandon Ramey, a former college football player for Saint Thomas More. I recorded our near 40-minute conversation about fitness. Then I compiled highlights into a four-part Youtube series dubbed “Cerebral Palsy Fitness Round Table.”

Although our discussion concentrates on CP, you will find certain ideas mentioned universal to disabilities in general. Insights that could help you or your loved one thrive in an inclusive fitness setting. A valuable asset as Daryl Perry emphasizes athletics’ importance in the series’ second video. He explains “The other thing about athletics is it teaches you discipline and how to be on a team, this and that. Skills you’re going to need throughout life.”


Ironically a barrier to an inclusive fitness setting comes internally. The person with a disability may feel self-conscious, which breeds anxieties. Suddenly you start second guessing. “Do I want to try out for this team?” “Is the gym the place for me?” If you notice such thoughts creeping into your mind, consider these words from Daryl Perry.

“You think everybody is constantly looking at you. Honestly, initially, they probably are. But it’s kind of like we tell our kids which is don’t worry about what everybody else thinks of you because chances are they are more worried about how everybody is thinking about them. So it’s the same thing with this.”

Meanwhile, Brandon Ramey supplied a reminder what an inclusive setting looks like differs based on the individual. Often the mainstream media frames an inclusive sports story in an inspirational context. A treatment Ramey received in high school by The Cincinnati Enquirer. He recalled the article titled “An Inspiration at Oak Hills,” saying the following.

“I wasn’t just on the team just to fill out a jersey and be, ‘Aw yeah, that’s great.’ I earned the right to play. I won the right to tackle somebody else. That’s not an inspiration. That’s just me wanting to do what I wanted to do and being able to.”

Ramey went on to express gratitude for possessing those abilities. For others, an inclusive setting might mean fulfilling another role. For example, team manager. Said roles still teach useful social skills. Simultaneously they foster the belonging only a team can grant. Evaluating a person’s abilities remains the smartest approach to determine the best role for him or her. After all, you want the position to challenge personal growth.

Leveling Up

Maintaining a challenging aspect preserves arguably the most rewarding part of fitness and athletic pursuits, building character. Maybe anxiety runs through you because starting out you can’t lift heavy weights. Or, you need to hold onto a wall to keep your balance during yoga. Brandon Ramey shared a reassuring truth. “We each start out just really as our weakest self. We all start at a different person. We all start out at a different starting point.”

Individuals around you who seem to move with ease worked to get there. Persistence segues to improvement. A point Ramey identified in his continuing comments. “You might drop that barbell on your chest, but you know what? If you keep going and going and going, eventually you’ll get that up. And you know what? That is one of the best feelings in the world. Something physically you were failing at time and time again, but you work at it, and you achieve.”

Alongside the journey to improvement, lines blur. This occurs when aches and pains clash with a desire to expand your comfort zone. Deciding to stop or push forward leads to indecisiveness. Wisdom from Daryl Perry should assist you in making a sound decision. “The folks I work with what I always say is you want to push yourself. But the number one goal is you want to be able to come back and do this tomorrow and the next day after that.

Better Together

Perhaps nothing above appeased your concerns yet; perhaps Perry can console you. He admits “The first time you walk in there (the gym) it is pretty awkward, but you just do your thing.” His observations ought to uplift you.

“What I’ve found with exercise is you just kind of show up and do the best you can. The people that are the regulars there they kind of see that. They come around you, and everybody comes together and are very supportive.”

Within Daryl Perry’s closing remarks he stressed the power of people. “If you are looking at getting into this, one is it is never too late. So if you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, it’s just finding your people.” He suggested “Start a Facebook page. Start a blog. Somebody out there has the same interests.”

Daryl Perry and Brandon Ramey join Zachary Fenell for a discussion on inclusive fitness.

Get in touch with Brandon, Daryl, and/or myself on Twitter.

To close out, Brandon Ramey invited anyone with questions to contact him on Twitter (@Brandon_Ramey). Anyone interested in learning more about Daryl Perry’s personal training services can visit Whether you contact Ramey and Perry, at least remember the key elements to thrive in an inclusive fitness setting.

Focus on ability to determine how inclusion will look best for you or your loved one. Choose a challenging role which facilitates personal growth. Finally, seek supportive people with similar interests.

For more watch my entire “Cerebral Palsy Fitness Round Table” video series. Due to audio issues with the recorded video, you will want to turn up the volume on the videos and your device. Or, turn on the closed captions.

Photo Credit: Ken Conley/Flickr

Three Tips to Make Classrooms Mobility Device Friendly

A class reads from books. A disabled student is in a wheelchair.

Achieving greatness requires overcoming challenges. The more challenges faced, the increased greatness. Perhaps that explains why establishing an inclusive environment remains so challenging. Inclusion’s many benefits certainly make inclusion great and hence worth the problem solving efforts.

Obstacles to inclusion vary based off different special needs, although certain obstacles transcend specific disabilities. Such proves the case with mobility devices. Students who use canes, walkers or wheelchairs encounter similar issues. No matter the disability.

In an effort to identify these issues and compile solutions Think Inclusive reached out to adults with disabilities via a survey “Blending Mobility Devices into the Classroom.” Survey questions as you can read here asked respondents to remember back to their school days. Insights collected led to the following tips for making classrooms mobility device friendly.

Tip #1: Turn the Tables on Desks

Nearly half the survey respondents mentioned desks as an issue. Each one used a wheelchair in school. Answering “When you think about your time in the classroom setting, what comes to mind?” Erin M. Diericx said “I remember awkwardly parking my electric wheelchair among the desks.”

Another respondent Adriana Mallozzi raised the issue when answering the question “What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome using that mobility device in a classroom setting?” She said “Starting in middle school, there were desks attached to chairs instead of tables.”

Furnishing classrooms with tables opposed to desks stood a preference amongst survey takers. Obviously you as a teacher can only work with the furniture placed inside the classroom. Yet you can give a voice to the matter. Persistently vocalize to the higher ups why they should put tables in classrooms. Persistence possesses a better chance to stimulate change than shrugging your shoulders and saying “I can only work with what they give me.”

Tip #2: Create Wide Aisles

While you can’t control what furnishes your classroom, you can typically control how to arrange the furniture. Within her responses Thelma Padgett emphasized the need for wide aisles. Padgett’s perspective differed from other respondents given the fact her experiences comes teaching with a disability.

Throughout her different answers Padgett explained how using a walker impacts her ability to teach. Replying to the biggest obstacle question she wrote “Space. If desks were moved even slightly, it made walking between them difficult and sometimes impossible.”

From the student perspective respondent Casey Miller echoed the aforementioned. Miller who uses a manual wheelchair credited his teachers for helping to neutralize mobility issues. “Mobility was my biggest problem. They’d (My teachers) moved some desks around if everyone was going to one specific place in the classroom.”

Admittedly re-arranging furniture will not always exist as an option. Miller noted that. “Sometimes in a small classroom with 30+ kids and just as many desks there isn’t much they could do.” Therefore he found himself limited to his “assigned area,” distinguishing semantics caused by Miller’s sense of humor.  “I had to keep saying ‘assigned area’ (in my survey answers) because that’s what they (my teachers) ended up having to call it. Every time they told me to go back to my assigned seat I’d tell them that I never left it.”

Tip #3: Treat Students Equally

Tip three differs from the first two in you hold total control over the situation. Treat students with mobility devices like any other student. Mallozzi shared appreciation for her teachers doing this for her when answering “What was something your teacher did to make the classroom setting a better atmosphere for you?” She plainly replied “Treated me like everyone else.”

Mallozzi kept a similar tone when offering her advice to teachers “It’s ok to acknowledge it (disability) for obvious reasons, but not focus on it.” Respondent Devin Axtman also hit on said point. “Don’t make it (the disability) a huge deal.”

Axtman proceeded to cite an example where his disability received unnecessary attention. “Sometimes a teacher would say, ‘Everyone please stand for the pledge, except for Devin.’ Everyone knew I couldn’t stand. It wasn’t something that needed to be pointed out.”

Bottom line treat a student who uses mobility devices like any other student, arrange classroom furniture to create wide aisles, and insist on tables to furnish your classroom. These three steps will build a mobility device friendly classroom and help everyone experience the greatness inclusion offers.

Photo Credit: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

Five of Our Best Posts on Autism Acceptance


While autism acceptance or at the very least autism awareness receives the spotlight in April, we at Think Inclusive promote autism acceptance year round. Over the past few years we proudly published pieces geared to help our readers better understand autism. For a limited time we open the Think Inclusive archives to the general public so everyone can read or reread our best autism content. Enjoy!

Why Autism Speaks Hurts Us” by Amy Sequenzia (Guest Blogger)

Leaders in a movement essentially shape attitudes towards the given issue, an occurrence guest blogger Amy Sequenzia puts into context regarding Autism Speaks and autism advocacy. Autism Speaks’ negative view on the disability influenced Amy to see her autism negatively. However, through life experiences she eventually abandoned those notions to recognize autism as an important part to her personality. In “Why Autism Speaks Hurts Us” Amy highlights the dangers Autism Speaks casts.

My Decision to Homeschool My Son with Autism” by Allison Trotter (Guest Blogger)

In her Think Inclusive guest post Allison Trotter addresses autism and education. Specifically, Allison discusses why she decided to homeschool her autistic son Jackson. Using an analogy she demonstrates a student with autism can learn in the large school setting but successful placement requires one critical element, an element Jackson’s school unfortunately lacked.

The Best Argument Against Autism Speaks: A Special Educator’s Perspective” by Tim Villegas

If guest blogger Amy Sequenzia’s previously highlighted post didn’t remedy your curiosity about why so many call foul on Autism Speaks, Think Inclusive founder Tim Villegas will. Tim shares his passionate, thorough, and compelling argument against Autism Speaks, even using the organization’s own words to identify their missteps. As Tim’s title suggests he offers a special educator’s perspective on the situation.

Passing: How to Play Normal” by Larkin Taylor-Parker (Guest Blogger)

After reading guest blogger Larkin Taylor-Parker’s post you may become more self-conscious over what you say and around whom. Larkin’s Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis lands her on the autism spectrum. Yet due to Larkin’s parents heavily criticizing her social behavior as a child she learned to “play normal,” faking behaviors to gain acceptance from us neurotypical people. Judging by Larkin’s last paragraph that acceptance appears not the Holy Grail we on the outside might envision.

Autistic: On the Outside Looking In” by Steve Summers (Guest Blogger)

Autistic people who don’t adapt to our neurotypical way will probably experience social exclusion, the topic guest blogger Steve Summers addresses in his post. Steve expresses the hurt and confusion he feels encountering exclusion. These instances range from someone hiding a “Happy Birthday” Facebook post he gave to not getting invited to parties. All in all Steve’s insights stands a great conversation starter about autism and socializing.

Photo Credit: Philippa Willitts

Inclusion Spotlight #006- Dylan Rafaty/DylanListed

Over the past couple of years at Think Inclusive, we have used our “Inclusion Spotlight” segment to highlight individuals who take extraordinary efforts to make inclusion thrive. For the most part, that spotlight focused on inclusion inside classrooms and schools. Eventually, though, students graduate and seek a spot within the workforce. Today, we shine the “Inclusion Spotlight” on DylanListed, where founder, president, and CEO Dylan Rafaty strives to make the workforce a more inclusive place.

DylanListed is a job-finding website that addresses disability employment from multiple perspectives, including current special education (SpEd) students, job candidates, service providers, and employers. This comprehensive approach helps individuals with disabilities become job candidates, which is one crucial step to a more inclusive workforce, and it helps employers to find qualified job candidates in the cross-disability community.

DylanListed founder, president, and CEO Dylan Rafaty

DylanListed founder, president, and CEO Dylan Rafaty

Rafaty’s personal experience as a hearing-impaired student in a special education setting motivated him to start DylanListed. Just how his own experiences put him on this path is among the highlights of our conversation. Read on to enjoy that story and more…

Rafaty’s definition of the “special education community” (which he references in the interview): “When I say special education community, I refer to students in special needs classes in public high schools, parents of SpEd students in public high schools, teachers, administrators and transition specialists of special education departments in public school districts.”

Background on Rafaty’s education: “I am a graduate of special education (class of 2009) from Plano ISD (Independent School District) in Plano, Texas. I have close ties with special education students, as I was one of them. I published a book about my personal special education experience. Writing that book has helped me become more aware of myself, and the book empowers other SpEd students. The title of the book speaks volumes: Occupy Special Education. Children Should Be Seen and Heard.”

How DylanListed works: “It is a job site where we have four different user types: SpEd students, candidates, employers, and service providers. Each user develops a personal virtual resume or virtual profile that can be made available to the public to see. It’s like an ordinary self-service, (apply within) job site that allows users to either apply for jobs or post jobs (depending on the user type).”

Developing DylanListed’s comprehensive approach to disability employment: “My idea was to empower all job seekers with disabilities. I had a struggle finding my first job. In truth, I was unprepared. I did not anticipate the interview questions. I did not know yet what I could do, what are my functional skills. As a result of my experience, I felt empathy for other job seekers with all types of disabilities. I saw the cross-disability community as one community. I still do.”

“The DylanListed community comprises SpEd students in high school, candidates (all other job seekers with disabilities), employers, and service providers. I believe that job seekers with disabilities, properly trained and empowered, should be able to connect directly and more easily with employers and service providers and employers should be able to more efficiently recruit this talent. That is the DylanListed vision.”

“Our application makes this type of connection possible. With the entire cross-disability community on DylanListed, and with good quality data about functional skills and other qualifications of job seekers, there is earlier transparency into this talent pool. The talent pool will become competitive. We publish training opportunities, too, on our calendar. And service providers can build a more inclusive client base.”

The need for DylanListed: “One of the greatest challenges that the SpEd Community faces today is the ability to successfully transition from school to employment. I hear this from school districts and I hear it from caregivers and parents who are concerned about their students’ futures. The DylanListed application is a tool that every SpEd student in high school can use to begin a journey of self-awareness and employment-focus. And it’s always free to SpEd students in high school while they are SpEd students.”

What inclusion means to Rafaty: “The definition of the word inclusion (as defined by Google) is ’an action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.’ Inclusion, our goal, means eliminating barriers to the Google definition of inclusion.”

Why employers hesitant to hiring people with disabilities should reconsider: “To the employers that are hesitant, I say simply this: Subscribe to DylanListed and start posting your jobs here and publish your events open to the disability community. Your employment brand will grow just by doing that. Your subscription is free during this year and will be available for a nominal fee beginning in 2016.”

For DylanListed’s full subscription price lists for job seekers, employers, and service providers, plus details on what that fee includes, visit

To hear Dylan Rafaty discuss DylanListed in more depth, check out his recent radio appearance with Ellen Hedger on Fish Bowl Radio Network.

To purchase Rafaty’s book, Occupy Special Education. Children Should Be Seen and Heard, contact him directly by sending an email to

Book Review: LOVE & JUSTICE by Diana Morgan-Hill

Open Book

In her memoir Love & Justice, Diana Morgan-Hill tells her incredible tragedy-to-triumph story around those two universal themes. As a young woman, the author’s hunt for love was complicated by an accident that caused her to have both legs amputated. Hill takes her readers inside Britain’s courtrooms on another, simultaneous hunt for justice.

LOVE & JUSTICE by Diana Morgan-HillLove & Justice naturally begins with the catalyst for everything—the accident. Upon entering the train station on her way to a business meeting, Hill noticed her train had already pulled in.  She hurried on her way over to the platform and boarded the train, and throughout her account, she insists it remained stationary—a crucial insistence, since the company, British Rails, claimed that Hill attempted to board a moving train.

While each party contested the other’s version of the events leading up to the accident, what happened next is clearly recalled by all and wholly undisputed: The train started to depart while Hill was caught between the rail and the train. Her life changed forever.

Attempting to Empathize

As Hill described the immediate aftermath of her life-changing accident, I found myself attempting to empathize by recalling a shocking, painful moment from my own experience. Apparently, my reaction is a common one, as Hill wrote about it in the next paragraph: “Some people, desperately trying to understand how I felt, would come and talk of some injury or pain they’d endured in their life to try and put it on scale to my agony. They wanted and needed to empathise on a very deep level.”

What well-placed words! They made me aware of an internal voice that was shouting, “Shut up!” Rather than trying to relate to Hill’s experiences, which was placing the focus on me instead of the true victim, I cleared my mind and really listened to her. Doing so prepared me and allowed me to learn.

An Educational Read

It strikes me as funny that I am a writer who covers a disability beat, but I quickly forget the vastness of experience surrounding disability. Reflecting on Love & Justice , I thought of remarks from my “Inclusion Spotlight” interview with Will Halby, co-founder of Zeno Mountain Farm, a non-profit organization that cultivates lifelong friendships Halby said “We categorize people as having Down syndrome or autism or spinal cord injury or whatever. Then the biggest crime is we put them all, all in one huge category for our own convenience. I don’t even know how to describe how detrimental that is to people.” (Read the complete interview).

To place amputees in the same category as autism or cerebral palsy and call it all “disability” overlooks the issues unique to amputees.  Hill taught me about these specific issues. For instance in chapter 12 “Hello and Goodbye”, she wrote about losing her connection to the earth:

I also felt an intense mourning of loss for my connection with the earth. This came as a shock. Something that’s taken wholly for granted is the job of connecting to the ground that feet carry out. I’d lost it and felt, still feel, a literal sense of being adrift, of airborne loss.

Still… There are Similarities

Love & Justice goes beyond the issues unique to amputees as it showcases the similarities between their challenges and those common to people with other disabilities. Hill’s stories about dating with a disability enable the similarities to emerge. This encounter from Chapter 27 is one example:

“There was one horribly awkward moment when an attractive man came to sit opposite me as I waited for Sarah in the Majestic bar. By the eye contact he was clearly interested in the way I looked. And then I got up to welcome Sarah and his face dropped to the floor as he saw me pick up the two walking sticks. I was deeply hurt and have never forgotten that sudden change in facial expression.”

Now, I’m certain that will be a universal point of connection for the disability community! Perhaps Hill’s take on the word “disabled” shared in the memoir can explain away the apparent paradox. “I couldn’t relate to the word at all. I always felt that one disabled a computer, you can’t disable a person, there is still something of them there, a spirit, a movement of sorts, a life that, in most cases, should be lived.”

Final Verdict

Love & Justice by Diana Morgan-Hill is well-written and interesting, and it is a book that will find success in many target audiences. Anyone who wants to learn more about adjusting to life after amputation gets an inside view from the author’s experience.  Demystifying disability also makes this book a good choice for anyone looking for material about dating someone with a disability. Most importantly, though, new amputees and their loved ones should read Love & Justice… because reading about Hill’s experiences will comfort you by letting you know you are not alone, thus also empowering you to keep going during a very difficult period in your life.

Find Diana Morgan-Hill’s Love & Justice at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

*Disclaimer- Think Inclusive received Love & Justice from the author at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Inclusion Spotlight #005- Zeno Mountain Farm

Picture a camp where friends gather together to make movies and enjoy friendship, “friend” really proving the only role which matters. As opposed to say more traditional camps with the distinctions “counselor” and “camper.” This place you picture exists and goes by the name Zeno Mountain Farm.

However, there likely remain differences between your vision and the real Zeno Mountain Farm. For instance, you probably did not picture campers with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and Williams syndrome amongst other disabilities. Impressed by the camp’s loving and accepting environment Think Inclusive reached out to Zeno Mountain Farm co-founder Will Halby. Below you can read highlights from our conversation courtesy our latest “Inclusion Spotlight.”

Zeno Mountain Farm campers film a kickball scene for their movie Bulletproof Jackson

Zeno Mountain Farm campers take a break from filming a kickball scene for their movie Bulletproof Jackson so they can take a group picture.

On becoming interested in the disability community: “I love the culture of being around people that have unique(ness) and aren’t interested in being germane. Those people happen to have disabilities, a lot of them.”

Zeno Mountain Farm’s origins: “My brother (Peter Halby) and I had been working (with) adaptive sports organizations. We both taught school and I was in Los Angeles so filmmaking was in our mana. It just seemed like a cool idea to bring some people we met through these various programs out to Los Angeles and make a movie, just as a fun project to do with a group of friends. So we had a little fundraiser and ran one. It was just everyone had a ton of fun and we started growing from there.”

Developing the camp’s inclusive attitude: “Even the term ‘inclusiveness’ is exclusive if you think. If we’re an inclusive environment you’re suggesting that there are two groups of people and one group is including the other group. We just say everybody at camp, all of us, have needs and some of us take care to fulfill those needs. We have to be pragmatic about what those needs are and we have to be safe.”

Being beyond the word “inclusion”: “I don’t know if we’re beyond that, we just don’t even talk in those terms. We don’t even talk about disability very much at camp… We talk about Bobby, and Zach and Pete and Katie and George and Steve because we know everybody. We know what their needs are and we know what they want to do and what they’re striving for.”

“If somebody asked me, if they’re coming to camp and they’ve never been to camp before and their going to be in a cabin with Alec or something and they asked me what Alec is like I’ll explain ‘Oh Alec is really fun. This is how old he is and these are the things he likes.’ I probably wouldn’t mention he has Down syndrome or he even has a disability and that’s not a part of our philosophy. That’s just who we’ve become.”

Society’s tendency to focus more on a diagnosis than person: “A diagnosis is bull. I know probably 500 people who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome and they are all very different from each other. They’re more different from each other then most of me and my friends who don’t have Down syndrome.”

“I think we as a society we categorize people for our own convenience. We categorize people as having Down syndrome or autism or spinal cord injury or whatever. Then the biggest crime is we put them all, all in one huge category for our own convenience. I don’t even know how to describe how detrimental that is to people. It holds people so small. It’s the reason someone will go up to someone in a wheelchair and talk to them like their deaf or cognitively challenged.”

Goals for the camp: “When people want to come to camp and they feel like they’re going to ‘help out’ traditionally what would be a counselor role we discourage them from thinking that way. We want everybody to come to camp for the same reason, which is to be a part of a community, create great art, to make new friends, and to maintain those friendships.”

Story or stories embodying Zeno’s spirit: “Do you know Damien Rice? He is a very famous singer, big superstar singer. He came to camp once to sing us songs. It’s funny I think Damien just came ‘Oh, I’m going to do this thing’ and then he never left. He stayed for two weeks. I think what happened was he came to camp thinking it was going to be one thing and ended up staying at camp and just sort of joining us for two weeks because it flipped a whole lot of switches in him.”

“Very often after a screening of a movie or a play people will come up to me and they’ll say ‘That was so much better than I thought it was going to be which I always thought was an interesting way of them saying they had a set of expectations that were shattered and that their minds have been changed in that evening.”

Now due to the familial atmosphere Zeno Mountain Farm established, openings to join the camp occur on a limited basis. You can inquire Will about such opportunities or seek advice on starting your own non-profit similar to Zeno Mountain Farm. Send him an email to To learn more about the camp visit their website.

12 Ways to Think More Inclusively

12 Ways to Think More Inclusively

Embarking on self-improvement requires no celebratory facades. Many people treat a new year or turning a year older as reasons to set goals. Honestly though the reason does not matter. The desire to change for the better proves much more important. Becoming a more inclusive-minded person stands one way to improve. Who better than Think Inclusive then to help you think more inclusive?! Enjoy these 12 ways to think more inclusively.

The following lists only 12 ways to think more inclusive and does not intend to act as a “Top Ways” or “Best Ways” list. Items go in no particular order.

Acknowledge the Individual, Not the Diagnosis

A person becomes forever linked with their diagnosis but remember the person and diagnosis remain two separate entities. So you taught or tutored one autistic student before. That does not mean what spelled success with that one student will work with your next autistic student. Adjust your approach to the individual learner.

Tune into The Inclusive Class Podcast

Parent and teacher Nicole Eredics along with her co-host Terri Mauro produce a great weekly podcast on inclusion. Through their weekly dialogues you will continue to grow your knowledge. Make sure to take time and visit their show archive.

Work as a Team

Author and motivational speaker Brian King recently appeared on The G.I.M.P. (Gifted, Intelligent, Motivating, People) Show Podcast, a podcast for the special needs community hosted by Handicap This Productions’ Tim Wambach and Mike Berkson. During the appearance Brian King dished great insights on how parents can approach teachers to best facilitate teamwork. He also explained how both parents and teachers can learn from a student’s own resourcefulness. Listen by clicking the above link.

Read Books

Read books and not only textbooks! Spending time with memoirs by authors with disabilities can spark ideas. Getting perspective from a person with a disability that lived what you currently experience may cause you to stumble upon an idea otherwise gone unexplored. Plus you can always try to contact the author to get his or her advice on your specific situation. How many reply may surprise you!

Maintain Expectation Levels

While speaking about authors, one specifically shared some great thoughts on inclusion in the following Youtube video.

The way John W. Quinn (Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy) defines inclusion addresses a huge misconception. Inclusion involves lowering standards. If anything, that proves detrimental to the process! An interview I did with intervention specialist Kelsey Kimmel for The Mobility Resource demonstrated this in an educational setting. During the interview Kimmel described how by maintaining expectation levels, her students felt challenged, leaving them to reach new milestones academically.

Gain Experience

Can you find a better teacher than experience? Positioning yourself in situations to gain said experience will make you more inclusive-minded. Allow me to give you a personal example. I volunteer weekly at the Euclid Adult Activities Center, a Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities facility. Through my interactions with their clients there I gain experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Simply put I know how to interact with such individuals now where before I admittedly would feel unsure.

Implement Multiple Mediums into Lesson Plans

Even individuals without IEPs learn differently. Some prefer visuals while others thrive off audio cues and others by writing. Combining multiple channels into one lesson makes lessons more inclusive for all.

Learn How Each Student Learns Best

A tip intervention specialist Anshawn Ivery mentioned when I interviewed him for The Mobility Resource will assist in formulating the most effective lesson plans. At the start to each school year he meets with his students to learn about them, asking questions like “What do you hope to get out of this class?” and “How do you learn best?” He suggested doing this for all students, not just ones with IEPs.

Encourage Common Interests

Inclusion starts with integrating students with disabilities into the general education classroom. However inclusion excels after a belonging environment emerges. Common interests help to lay a foundation for this. Seek extra-curricular activities which can bring common interests to the forefront. As a result you will find whatever differences exist between the student and her peers will fade to the background.

Hang Anti-Bullying Messages Around the Classroom

A belonging environment means a bully-free environment. Back when I interviewed anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli for Think Inclusive he advised hanging student made anti-bullying posters around the classroom. Such posters provide dual purpose. First they allow students to consume the anti-bullying message. Secondly, the posters constantly remind students to treat peers with respect.

Practice Social Situations

Many people take with ease the ability to navigate different social situations, albeit in the cafeteria at lunch or moving around the hallways before or after school. Certain disabilities can make what many take with ease extra challenging. Rehearsing such situations works to make these situations easier for everyone. Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders (LASARD) Project coordinator Julie D. Riley delved into the rehearsal strategy in the Think Inclusive piece I wrote based off an interview with her.

Become a Think Inclusive Member

If you enjoy the Think Inclusive website, know the experience gets even better by becoming a Think Inclusive member! Membership perks include exclusive content from our sponsor Brookes Publishing Company, a 30-minute consultation with our founder Tim Villegas (either by Skype, phone, or email), ad-free browsing, complete access to the Think Inclusive archives (three years and counting), and a curated online newsletter. Membership perks will only grow too. For instance, sometime this year Kids Included Together (KIT) will start providing membership exclusive content too. Click here to learn more about becoming a Think Inclusive member.

An Overlooked Resource – People with Disabilities

An abstract close-up photograph of a brightly coloured fabric with swirls.

Sometimes in the search for resources to help best educate students with disabilities one resource goes overlooked, other people with disabilities! Doctors give their opinions. Therapists whether physical, occupational, speech, or another kind recommend resources. Parents un-doubly perform their own research and bring up their results with the aforementioned professionals.

All that proves great but I feel to exert an even more comprehensive effort try reaching out to other people with disabilities. Living with a disability inherently gives a perspective no degree or training program can teach. A perspective rooted in real life experiences, valuable experiences to learn from. What worked in the person’s educational career? What didn’t and how do we learn from those mistakes to avoid making them again with the current generation?

When I started writing my memoir Off Balanced I aimed to empower current students with cerebral palsy (CP). Growing up I saw my cerebral palsy negatively, feeling embarrassed about standing out and frustrated by my inability to blend in. During my college years my viewpoint rotated 180 degrees. I came to embrace my disability and see the positives. Off Balanced hoped to let current teenagers quicken their journey to embrace their disabilities.

Now during the writing process feedback on my manuscript led me to realize anyone in the current teen’s life albeit a teacher, parent, or peer could also find the read useful. In fact I recently enjoyed an engaging email conversation with a father of a 14-year old with cerebral palsy. Off Balanced left the father shedding tears because he saw many similarities between my story and his son’s.

Throughout our email conversation I offered my best advice. Unfortunately, logic only extends so far. As I stated in one email message, “That’s part of the problem with teenagers. You can have the best advice but sometimes they only accept it once they learn by experience.”

This provides an example demonstrating the limits one person’s story’s resourcefulness provides. Thankfully though, I am armed with a varied network. I encouraged the father to join the weekly cerebral palsy Twitter chat #CPChatNow I co-host every Wednesday at 8pm ET with Reaching for the Stars Foundation’s Student Ambassador Blake Henry.

Our #CPChatNow community contains a diverse group including current high school students with cerebral palsy, current college students with CP, and young professionals with cerebral palsy. With Wednesday, March 25th National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day we decided we wanted to do something special for the chat that day. We want you the educator, special needs parent, or caregiver to join us and ask us any questions. Allow us to become your resource.

While our collective expertise lay with cerebral palsy, we will do our best to answer all questions. To join in follow these steps:

1. Sign into Twitter a few minutes before 8pm ET on Wednesday, March 25th.

2. Search Twitter for “#CPChatNow.” Make sure you switch the search results from “Top” to “All.”

3. Ask away! Make sure to include “#CPChatNow” in your tweet too.

For anyone without Twitter interested in participating, leave your questions on the CPChatNow Facebook Fan Page. I do a weekly recap for each chat on my own blog and will include all answers to Facebook questions in the recap so you can read the answers. I look forward to your questions!

Photo Credit: Philippa Willitts/Flickr

Cerebral Palsy Day Twitter Chat

Allow us to become your resource.

A Proposal to Revolutionize Inclusion


Inclusion RevolutionWhen you hear the term inclusion, certain thoughts will probably come to your mind. These thoughts form your concept or understanding about what inclusion looks like. Whether your concept contains a positive or negative cogitation speaks to your own experiences. This proves especially true when discussing inclusive education.

Personally I did not fully appreciate the inclusion debate’s ramifications until I started writing a lot about disabilities. That might come across as surprising considering my cerebral palsy (CP). However, since my CP proves so mild there existed less barriers to including me within the general education classrooms. Subsequently I ended up taking an inclusive environment for granted.

Still I required special education services. Throughout elementary school I received pull-out services to obtain speech therapy and physical therapy. Meanwhile the school’s occupational therapist came into the general ed classroom in order to work with me.

Once I began attending a school with multiple floors I received elevator access. Additionally upon entering junior high my IEP incorporated physical education accommodations. My accommodation list grew as a high school freshman due to surgery recovery.

Again though, nothing jeopardized my place inside general education classrooms. Yet I bring up my accommodations because they affected me. Rather than an inclusion issue I experienced a confidence issue.

Oh how I desired to blend in with everyone else, to feel “normal”! Anything which worked against my desire, as my accommodations did, caused self-consciousness. Consequently that led to shyness and timid behavior. Perhaps I should provide an example.

Back in elementary school I remember the school physical therapist coming to the classroom to get me. As I packed up my desk and moved to the door my classmate asked “Is that your Grandma?” to which I briskly replied with a stern no. Needing physical therapy made me feel weaker than my “normal” peers so I responded with such a tone to avoid giving any explanation.

Now you may wonder why I keep putting “normal” in quotations. Simply put, these days I see “normal” as a myth. Everyone possesses differentiating characteristics making each person a unique individual and invalidating the “normal” idea. Accepting said premise could revolutionize how to view inclusion.

Insight from Think Inclusive founder Tim Villegas’ post “What Does Full Inclusion Really Mean?” comes to my mind. “Full and authentic inclusion has more to do with complete membership in a community rather than time spent in general education… Membership is about belonging, having full access, being accepted, being supported and having an environment in which every student can learn the best.”

Placing that thought into context with my own education journey, “being accepted” stands out as a key point. Classmates accepted me since I didn’t experience bullying. Teachers accepted me daresay the majority enjoyed my classroom presence. Nonetheless I didn’t accept me because I fixated too much on my differences and not fitting into what I perceived the “normal” boy image.

Curiosity leaves me wondering how inclusion may look if schools established a culture which celebrates differences. For instance, I envision a class assignment where each student identifies something which makes him or her unique and share how that uniqueness provides benefits. Drawing to a close I ask if you hold a position where you can help create a culture celebrating differences, you contemplate doing so.

*Anyone interested in an in-depth take on my journey to self-acceptance should checkout my memoir Off Balanced, available on the Kindle and Nook.

Pin It on Pinterest