February 8, 2021
Comedian and journalist, Stella Young, offered a delightful and humorous firsthand perspective on what it means to be a person with a disability. She said, “It’s not a Bad Thing, spelled with a capital B and capital T.” Nor does it “make you exceptional, brave or a source of inspiration just because you happen to get up in the morning and remember your own name.” Her words remind us that we’re all differently abled, and no one wants to be labeled. With tips and tools from Y4Y’s new course on including students with disabilities, your program can embrace this idea and move toward true inclusion.
A starting point for authentic inclusion is the use of person-first language when referencing a disability. For example, instead of saying “Emma’s autistic,” which equates Emma with her disability, you’d say “Emma has autism” or “Emma has a diagnosis of autism.” Those last two examples present Emma as a person first and foremost, separate from her disability. For more examples of person-first language, see Y4Y’s Socially Responsible Language tool.
It might be tempting to shrug off this shift as simply more pressure toward political correctness, but the depth of attitude that accompanies a shift in language is significant. Try it. Also, check out Y4Y’s Process for Developing Inclusive Forms to ensure written communications based on inclusive practices and language. You’ll be stepping away from identifying your students by their disability and teaching their peers to do this as well. Just as we all see beyond hair color or last name as soon as we learn even a few more things about a person’s individuality, so too must we practice seeing beyond a disability. Fine-tuning our language is the first step.
What Ms. Young so humorously alluded to is that a person with a disability doesn’t want to be “an inspiration” to others simply because he or she is disabled. Rather, people want to be acknowledged for their genuine gifts and contributions. Every student, without exception, deserves the opportunity to shine in your program. Just make sure you have different paths to the stage! Check out Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool so that each staff member understands their part in making your program inclusive for all students. Assess your space with Y4Y’s Environmental Checklist. Maybe literal ramps are what your students with disabilities need to access a stage where they can shine. Learn about Expanding Activities, and remember: Knowing each student’s strengths – and they ALL have them – is the key to developing young stars.
Ms. Young would likely agree that it’s OK to say you’re inspired by someone’s perseverance or positive attitude in the face of a challenge, whether that challenge is caused by a disability or some other circumstance. Her point is perseverance and a positive attitude are inspiring characteristics in anyone! Credit the person, not the disability or circumstance. Genuine inclusion in your 21st CCLC program means removing obstacles that stand in the way of all students showing the world their truly inspiring star power.