Recently, I was asked to rate the level of inclusion for our community on a scale of 1-10. The question prompted a lively discussion with some of our staff. We are part of a city that has embraced the concept of accessibility and we acknowledged that this is a work in progress:
- True accessibility and inclusion for people of all abilities comes when everything is accessible to everyone at all times. Everyone, always, everywhere.
- True accessibility comes when no one feels like an “other.”
- It is when we all travel the same path one that is traversable by all.
- True inclusion is integral and intentional. It is anticipatory rather than reactionary.
We are rich in resources with disability providers arts working towards inclusive performances, recreational options with a commitment to adaptive programming and initiatives supportive of enhanced employment opportunities.
There is no checklist for how to make an inclusive community. It cannot be boiled down to a simple to do list.
With true inclusion there is no us and them. In schools there is no special ed and general ed. Universal design is in every building where accommodations do not need to be made for employees with disabilities. Large employers are scaled up and have work forces of widely varying abilities rather than just individual businesses doing a good deed for a single individual. We are on the path to meeting this vision.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). If you are an employer and want to help us on this path towards a more inclusive community, there are many resources available to you this month. Here are a few for consideration:
- Indiana Institute on Disability and Community’s Center on Community Living and Careers has an onboarding curriculum with resources, tips and how-to videos.
- The Governors Council for People with Disabilities shares the national initiative Work to Include.
- Employment First in Indiana, in collaboration with Indianas Work to Include Coalition and other agencies, has shared its plan to encourage the development of statewide initiatives for competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.
- Self employment is another option and support is available for those considering that path. Zoom meetings are available in early November from IIDC for those seeking one-on-one support on the road to self employment.
Our group gave Fort Wayne a 6 but let me explain.
We are doing better than most other cities, but that isnt enough. AWS Foundation and those we work with have high expectations. We all have visions of what is ideal. We also know how far we have come. We tell stories of what life was like for the person with a disability earlier in our careers. Many of us knew of institutionalization, segregation and marginalization much greater than what we see just 30 years after ADA.
Fort Wayne has Northeast Indiana Disability Advocacy Coalition (NDEAM), bringing together dozens of agencies with a voice of advocacy for those with varying abilities, and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Disability Advisory Council has similar goals.
Providing opportunities for competitive integrated employment for those of all abilities is a critical keystone for the construction of a truly inclusive community. NDEAM reminds each of us that, and I encourage each of you to consider how you can help.
Help us self-score as a more welcoming and inclusive community.