By Lauren Ochalek
Think about your daily life, are you included – do you feel a sense of belonging? Do you have the same opportunities as others, or do you face barriers? Do you participate in inclusive activities, or are they segregated? Does the model of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) apply to you? DEI isn’t all-encompassing if people with disabilities are an afterthought. What does truly meaningful inclusion mean to you?
Inclusion for Ellie means …
Being educated alongside her typically developing peers; neighborhood friends, Girl Scout sisters, dance class buddies, and so many others whom she interacts with regularly within our community.
Being exposed to an appropriately ambitious curriculum in school with supports in place to ensure her success.
Being viewed and respected as a whole person.
Being held to high esteem and standards, where those who interact with her presume her competence.
Being exposed to every opportunity in life that her typically developing peers and siblings experience.
Being included to where she feels a sense of belonging in school, extracurriculars, friendships, and every other aspect of her life.
Being challenged and learning to rise above while leaning into her strengths.
Being meaningfully welcomed into spaces that were once off limits to those with disabilities, where people make the least dangerous assumption and give her the opportunity to experience growth.
Being valued for the gifts and qualities that she brings to the world.
Being recognized for her strengths – academically, socially, and otherwise.
Being heard and truly listened to when she expresses her hopes, dreams, and what matters most to her.
Being respected by society where she, as a person with a disability, is not an afterthought and instead is a part of the bigger conversations happening within our community, school system, and government.
The research is clear and the benefits are monumental – meaningful inclusion benefits everyone!
A brief (or not so brief) rundown of much of the research on inclusion, as it pertains to education, can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/5f45hx8w
How have you gone out of the way in your life to meaningfully include someone with Down syndrome? Better yet, how do you, going forward, plan to engage in inclusive practices so that every person may feel a sense of belonging and experience an inclusive life that sets them up for success? Inclusion matters.
A version of this post was originally published on Facebook. It is published here with the author's permission.
Lauren Ochalek is the mom of Ellie and the Co-Director of the Maryland Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition.