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The Importance of Seeing the World Through an Inclusion Lens

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The term “inclusion lens” was recently brought to my attention. As a parent of a child with a disability, I have it. I’m always on the lookout for the accessible way to approach everything. As a sibling to a child with a disability, my daughter has it; noticing whether a shop is accessible or not determines whether we can go in. She once redesigned our previous home to be full of ramps, her own sketches and all. She’s 7. My husband has it, carrying our physically disabled son to the top of the play structure so he can be included in the game of pirates and mermaids with his sister and her friends. We live it every day. But we need folks that don’t live it to start using it. Let’s start at school.

When I received two different field trip permission forms on the same day, each for different school-wide trips, I was confused. And then angry. I have two kids in an alternative public school. Alternative because they accept kids that don’t live in their catchment area (my daughter) and also partially integrate kids with physical disabilities (my son). It was one of only eight integrated programs in over 500 city public schools that could possibly accommodate both of my kids.

Previously my son attended congregated sites for kids with physical disabilities and more recently my daughter started kindergarten at the school across the street. So we moved and I advocated for my kids to go to school together. It was not an easy process. Imagine my reaction when I received an all-school field trip form that only one kid came home with. And it was not the kid with the disability.

When staff were confronted with not including the kids in the physical disability class, they defended themselves by stating that everyone was invited. No one was purposely left out. Teachers made their own choice for their classes whether to attend. But what they hadn’t done was view the trip through an inclusive lens when planning. Had they done that, all staff would have felt supported in taking their classrooms to the school-wide trip.

What is an inclusive lens? A plan of action. Not a reaction. How do we make sure everyone can take part in this event? Can everyone get to the event? Is the location accessible? Do the activities have options to include those with physical disabilities? Do we have a backup plan if the schedule needs to change? Can we make sure everyone’s eating needs are accommodated? These are questions that would be answered when planning with an inclusive lens. Without that lens, responsibility for issues around accessibility, timing and transportation is shifted to the person working with the child with the disability. That’s not inclusive.

When an educator views your child as the one person that is asking to be accommodated rather than seeing how to accommodate the group as a whole, that is not an inclusive lens. When an educator singles out one student, the one with the physical disability, and tells his peers they they are waiting for him to finish eating before they can start their event, that’s discrimination. Shaming and discriminating against the kid with a disability is not creating an atmosphere of inclusion.

I advocated for my children to attend school together. I advocated for my son to be integrated into a “regular” grade five classroom. We were welcomed to a school that boasted of their inclusive environment. I thought we had entered a community that approached everything with an inclusive lens. But so far that hasn’t happened. Instead I find myself fighting for the kids in the physical disability class to be included on a schoolwide field trip. Instead I find myself sitting across from a teacher that clearly does not know my son, nor how he learns and what accommodations he needs, because she’s passed that off to his special education teacher. Now tell me, is that inclusion?

I need others to take on that lens rather than responding after the fact. I need educators to stop telling me that they shouldn’t have to do something for one kid (mine) which could affect how they manage the rest of their class. That’s discrimination. I don’t doubt they would argue, but it is. My son has been singled out. His teachers don’t want to modify the way they do things to include everyone in the classroom. They do not use an inclusion lens.

If my son’s teachers could see the world through an inclusion lens, as they should, I could be seen as an asset rather than an adversary.

Originally published: October 17, 2019
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