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Breaking Ground 93 - Inclusion is a Right

by Sheila Carson, Partners in Policymaking Graduate, 2017-18 Class

The disability issue that I am most passionate about is inclusion in the schools, in the workplace, and in our communities. Every person has the right to live life to the fullest and to strive to reach his or her potential. Every citizen has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And every person has the right to feel, and be, included.

Everyone benefits from inclusion because we learn from one another. Some don’t see it that way. Some are resistant to change or to do anything that, in their mind, means they lose somehow if everyone is included. This is where education comes into play. 

I must confess as a mom, there have been times when I have wanted to keep my daughter protected “in a bubble”, because the world is not always a kind place. I have steered her toward places and people where I felt she would be more accepted. But is this truly allowing her to spread her wings and reach her potential? Life is a risk. From risks come rewards.

Inclusion has to start early in the schools. Special education policies have evolved over time, in some areas faster than others. In my experience, guidance counselors and teachers are beginning to have more open and honest conversations about what is best for our children.

But some of this is on US. We have to take the responsibility to teach everyone that will listen that ALL students have value. We all learn differently, and that’s okay. Kindness and compassion should be encouraged, and praised.

Parents have known for years that if they are visible and helpful in the schools, their children are more likely to be supported and included. We must, as advocates, let school officials know that hiding our loved ones away is no longer acceptable. Instead of threats, we must educate ourselves about our rights, and we must use that knowledge to support our children. 

Voting for school board members that share our vision, or becoming a school official ourselves will help us move forward in making inclusion a reality. Being as visible as possible, participating in every meeting, volunteering in the classroom and at all the special school events lets everyone at the school know that you are invested in your child and his or her future – as well as the entire school community. Early on, my daughter was very active in scouting. To give her more opportunities, I first became a leader, and eventually, a major player in Girl Scouts in our area.

That’s what it takes to make change happen in the schools. We have to be a part of the process to change the process. To sum this all up:

Education is the key. We have to know our rights and be willing to stand up for our rights and the rights of our children.

Visibility is imperative. We spend time on the things that are most important to us.

Numbers count. We must band together and support each other to make change happen.

We must vote for representatives that further our cause.

And finally, as someone very wise once said…Be the change you wish to see in the world.

a photo of the author, Sheila Carson, with her daughter, Sarah. They are both smiling, holding each other and wearing bright pink t-shirts.