The Marion Chronicle-Tribune has begun publishing a monthly column on disability awareness issues that will be written by Carey Services’ staff members. The latest column, which appeared Jan 30, focused on disability inclusion in the light of the Martin Luther King Jr., annual observance. It is published here in its entirety.
Integration good, inclusion better for everybody
We live in a society that seems to be placing more and more labels on things, and people.
In a month in which we celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it’s good to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re heading as we see those labels thrown around.
Take, for instance, “people with disabilities.” Yes, it’s a label, but it’s one that is much more friendly and descriptive than other pejorative words used in the past.
In the disabilities services world, it’s much more important to talk about the first word in that label than the last word. We’re dealing with people, and each person with whom we interact is much more than any labels society might place on them. They have feelings, hopes, dreams and emotions, even if they might express things in a slightly different manner.
When things, and people, get labeled, it’s often much easier to categorize them or make assumptions.
Labeling is also dangerous. It’s why many people in those groups who get labeled become advocates to get those labels removed. It’s a continuum that has played out many times in American society. Words such as discrimination and segregation are forever etched in the national psyche for many reasons.
Two other terms are gaining traction: integration, which is good, and inclusion, which is better.
Well, what’s the difference?
People of a certain age might remember playing marbles. You’d draw a circle with chalk on a sidewalk, and you’d have marbles inside the circle and try to knock them out of the circle. Well, let’s use that marble visual to loosely illustrate our situation.
In a setting with discrimination, people without disabilities would be scattered inside the circle, while people with disabilities would be scattered outside the circle. In a setting with segregation, people without disabilities would still be scattered inside the circle, but the people with disabilities would be clustered in one spot outside the circle.
To achieve integration, those people with disabilities would be moved inside the circle, but they still could be clustered in one area while people without disabilities would be scattered inside the circle as they saw fit.
Finally, inclusion – the ultimate goal – would see people with disabilities and people without disabilities intermingled inside the circle as each person made their own life choices.
What’s the big deal whether we have one or the other?
Integration gets people a seat at the table. Inclusion lets them choose their seat. Which would you prefer?
Much has changed in how we treat people with disabilities, but we still have a ways to go. Much progress has been made, but until we get to that point where people with disabilities can choose their own seats, we are not yet done.
King’s words in “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” continue to echo through time: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
We also remember King’s soaring words forever seared into history in what has been called the “Dream” speech. What many people don’t realize is the full title of the event where King gave that speech was The March on Washington for Jobs and Equality. The event had purpose beyond just gathering to hear people talk; it was a gathering seeking action on specific topics: jobs and equality.
More than 50 years later, employment and equality remain two huge issues for people with disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities can be as high as 83 percent. And, we still hear stories almost daily of people with disabilities who are faced with being singled out only because they don’t meet some mysterious criteria of what someone else thinks they ought to be.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” King wrote in that Birmingham letter. “Anyone who lives inside the U.S. can never be considered an outsider anywhere in the country.”
May those words truly continue to resonate as we reach for a better society for all.