I have just returned home to my most comfortable abode after a long and difficult day of academic drudgery. It's cold, dark and drizzly and I am so glad to be home, wrapped my ice cubed toes in some of dear, Sainted Husband's wooly socks, and comitting a most delicious pork chop dinner to my waiting, rumbling belly.
Slagging off to Brampton at 5 am - not even in summer months is the sun up that early - not my first choice when it comes to Saturday morning plans. After spending a sleepless night watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent re-runs, I arose to the plaintive bleating of my alarm...
Fast-forward a few hours (and transit systems) later, and I am sitting in class talking about the difference between inclusion and integration. What joy! I admit I have a somewhat vested interest in the matter, but I must admit that I remain shocked and taken aback at the lack of passion and vested interest among other parties - namely, my fellow classmates - all of whom work in the field of disability services.
Why is it that 'inclusion' is a concept reserved specifically for the disabled population? Inclusion (albeit in my tiny mind) is a concept that involves fostering a global community where all people are involved - included. All people are recognized and celebrated for the unique gifts that they bring to our experience as human beings, and how we relate to one another. Inclusion, valued roles and belonging are things that are sought after by the disabled community alone.
Inclusion, valued roles and belonging are prized possessions of the human condition. There are many examples throughout our history as humankind:
Women; through the feminist movement, women's lib, and the suffragette movement have fought for the right to be recognized as equal and contributory citizens, to participate in the political process, promote equal pay for equal work and the right to reproductive self-determination. To name only a few.
People of color; have fought against segregation, deep-seated hatred and racism. They also fought for the right to be recognized as equal and contributory citizens, to participate in the political process, standing together as a culture to proclaim their dreams for the future.
People who are gay, lesbian, transgendered and two spirited; they too fight against prejudice, religious/ cultural condemnation, vociferously advocating for the rights of full citizenship that heterosexuals take for granted.
Why have we failed to include all of these marginalized, disenfranchised people when we consider what it means to be inclusive? I acknowlege, right here and now, that there will always be struggle - it is unrealistic to expect utopia. There is a commonality to struggle. There is a commonality among those who experience it, and those who create it.
We all want the right to be recognized as equal and contributory citizens, to participate in the political process and to receive equal pay for equal work.
So why isn't it happening?
Some of my classmates would argue (I, by the way, dissent. Vociferously. Bleatingly.), that inclusion as a global concept - and to one that isolates people with disabilities as those needing to be included - lags because of a lack of governmental involvement...."the government needs to be more involved", "the government needs to make this more of a priority".
Sitting in class, listening, thinking of all the battles I've fought - where was the government when I was told that I didn't deserve 'to be sucking air', on a public transportation vehicle, by an employee who is paid with funding from the Ministry of Transportation (which, by the way, is governmnent)? Where was the government when my parents fought tooth and nail to keep me in my community school, to be educated along with my peers and siblings?
Why are we so keen to shirk our responsibility?
Community awareness and mobilization has nothing to do with the government. It is a grassroots movement of people, standing together to fight for what is right. Coming together as one voice, a voice that stands tall and unwavering in the face of naysayers. Stronger together - catalysts for change.
To be the change we want to see in the world.
What would have happened to Martin Luther King's dream, if he had sat by and said, "this is the government's job"? Or, Rosa Parks? If she believed that it was not her responsibility to stand up against hatred and say that what was happening was wrong....where would we be?
Parents, before the passing of Bill 82 - and still today, ffighting for alternative educational options for their disabled children, educating them in church basements, and at home...what was to become of them had parents not demanded the same entitlements afforded other children? To let "the government be more involved"?
We've seen what happens. We understand the damage that exclusion can do to a person. To a culture. To a race. CNN News reported yesterday, a teenager who comitted suicide after being outed on the internet. Where was the government in supporting him and his right to live free and unencumbered by the narrowmindedness of others?
It is our responsibility, as members of the human community. Ours. To stand behind one another, no matter what the struggle, the battle, the war. To send a message that your battle is just as important as mine, and that we are valuable allies to one another in the fight for inclusion. Where everyone belongs.