What Would Inclusion Look Like?
Last updated: November 2021
For me, it’s so easy to focus on how much inaccessibility still exists throughout the world and in my community that I lose sight of what inclusion would actually look like.
I get so frustrated with the everyday barriers. They throw roadblocks up not only physically, but also mentally. The roadblocks become the only thing that I can see.
But what if we could envision this inclusive world? A place where my disability and chronic condition wouldn’t be shunted to the side, where it would be understood and even embraced as a normal part of the human existence.
What would that look like? How would I recognize inclusion?
What inclusion would look like
Not having to ask about accessibility because it would just be there.
Anytime I go someplace new, I have to ask certain questions to determine if it is accessible for me, such as: are there steps, is there ramped access, is the restroom accessible, is there space to navigate my wheelchair, and so forth.
Even then, I have to take whatever information I can gather with a grain of salt because it may be wrong.
How many times have I tried to use a so-called accessible restroom when the door opened in and being in my wheelchair meant the door couldn’t close (meaning either not using the facility or having a public experience in the restroom)?
Now, I really stick to places I already know have adequate access for me or try to scope them out myself in advance.
It is so much work that I have a hard time imagining just showing up and trusting that accessibility will be there.
Not having to carefully plan transportation and backup alternatives because it would just be there.
Do you ever order a cab and it doesn’t show?
No big deal for most people, but when there are only a handful of wheelchair cabs in the city, that is a huge problem.
So, usually, I take public transit (which is mostly accessible, except when broken) and have backup plans in place. Getting around in my wheelchair is like playing a game of chess where I have to plan 5 moves ahead and always feel 10 moves behind.
Not having to insert my opinion on inclusion and accessibility because I would be invited to the table.
It doesn’t have to be me specifically, but having more people with conditions and disabilities "in the room where things happen" would make a huge improvement on inclusion.
Buildings with inaccessible lobbies but backdoor ramps wouldn’t be approved. Housing would be built with first-floor accessibility. Restaurants expanding into the street would build platforms or ramps because it would be required.
It really shows everywhere that I go, people with disabilities are thought of last, if at all.
Not having to explain my bad days or needing more time because it would be understood this is part of life with a chronic condition and disabilities.
Usually, on my days where I am flared or feeling bad, I don't explain and just push through.
To me, it is exhausting to have to describe how terrible I am feeling. I want to instead concentrate on my work or whatever I am doing.
But I would like people generally to consider and be aware that not everyone is feeling well and doing well. We all have bad days, and so need a little kindness and gentleness sometimes.
Can we practice giving each other that space so we don’t have to ask for it?
Becoming part of the norm instead of a scary alternative lifestyle not of my choosing.
Living with a disability can sometimes feel like being in an alternate universe. I’m watching the world do its thing while it ignores me. Just about every day, I experience exclusion.
What would it feel like to just be included, like, all the time? It sounds both exciting and alarming. How would I adjust to being embraced entirely as a person?
In many ways, I have to hide and adapt so much of myself. What would it mean to be seen as part of normal life that embraces illness and disability instead of a person to avoid, fear, or sideline?
Building a more inclusive society
While I can envision specific areas for inclusion to be improved, I’m having a hard time grasping the entirety.
It makes me think that I should focus on baby steps. After all, more than 30 years ago, sidewalk ramps were not typical anywhere in America. It took a lot of advocacy and hard work to make that vision a reality.
Hopefully, piece by piece, we can build a more inclusive society for people with disabilities and chronic conditions.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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