We have spent a lot of the past year partnering with various organizations and ministries talking a lot about the word #inclusion.
What does it mean? What does it look like? How do we create an inclusive environment?
When your entire world is immersed and influenced by an individual with a disability, or special needs, two things often happen - sometimes simultaneously. 1. You forget that most others around you simply don't understand the world in which you are living, because this is NORMAL for you. (Does "normal" really exist? We'll get to that later). 2. You become very aware the gaps or lack of awareness from those around you (however unintentional it may be).
Disability affects the ENTIRE family. As an older sibling to an amazing sister with special needs, I can attest to this statement. It not only drastically changes the life of the parents and influences the life of the individual affected, but siblings, extended family, everyone is impacted by a diagnosis.
My sister's disability affected not only my childhood, but my college choices, career choices, and even now to parenting choices.
Her impact in my life created a passion for advocating not only for individuals living with special needs, but for their entire families. And part of advocating is raising awareness and lovingly educate their communities to be the best support system possible.
I love to focus on the word inclusion when talking about ministering to this population as the focus should be on our outcome of including ALL ability levels and if we are doing our part to create the best inclusive environment.
For instance, in addition to my work with Courtney's Corner, I have the privilege as a Kid’s Director at a local church serving families with kids ages birth through 5th grade. When we say all families, and all kids, in how we approach teaching the gospel and disciple making, it means ALL.
What is Inclusion?!
Disability inclusion is Including people with disabilities in everyday activities and encouraging them to have roles similar to their peers who do not have a disability.
This involves more than simply encouraging people; it requires making sure that adequate policies and practices are in effect in a community or organization.Inclusion should lead to increased participation in our ministries; not decreased participation because of our lack of preparedness to serve these families well.
How do we create an inclusive environment?!
First, let me pause and encourage you that there isn't a “one size fits all” for inclusive ministry because no two individuals/students with special needs are the same. It’s more of a mindset and position of your heart. Granted, there are several administrative and environmental strategies that will help set you up for success more quickly, but ultimately it comes down to our willingness as leaders to learn and advocate for these families within our ministries.
With this in mind, we put together a few resources that we utilize often in various trainings that help accomplish these goals and move organizations/ministries into a more inclusive environment and raise a community of support for the entire family.We hope you find these beneficial in your context of advocating for families affected by disability.
If you have any questions, or would like to dive deeper into these topics, please reach out to us through our "contact us" page. We would LOVE to partner alongside you the best way we can.