What Is Inclusion?

Community inclusion looks different for everyone.

 By Amy Pinder, MA, CCC-SLP

Inclusion is a vision in which all people, regardless of abilities, disabilities, or health needs feel welcomed to participate in community activities they enjoy, receive fair compensation in jobs that allow them to use their fullest capacities, and access education aligned with their values and learning styles. When all abilities are respected, celebrated, and appreciated everyone benefits.

Studies show that when children with and without special needs are educated together, they experience comfort and awareness of human differences, improved social-emotional and cognitive skills, and stronger friendships. In analyzing 600 students educated with and without disabled peers, The Indiana Inclusion Study found that students without disabilities educated in inclusive settings made significantly greater academic gains. Inclusion is also beneficial in the workplace. Employees with disabilities share diverse perspectives on completing tasks and solving problems creatively, tend to remain in their jobs longer, and help boost morale, productivity, and empathy.

Community inclusion looks different for everyone. In Northeastern Pennsylvania, Deutsch Institute, Verve Vertu Art Studio, and NEPA Inclusive work directly with individuals with special needs to help them identify and access activities aligned with their talents and interests. Examples include community classes with non-disabled peers, volunteering, playing sports, creating artwork, dining, and live music events.

Music is inherently inclusive and universally appealing. The American Music Therapy Association says music helps promote social, emotional, and cognitive skills in all people. Music helps reduce stress, enhance memory, improve communication, and there is strong potential for communities with diverse needs and backgrounds to bond through shared musical experiences. One example is Beardfest, a multiday music and learning celebration in Southern New Jersey. Organizer Robyn Mello explains how music provides a platform for creating inclusive environments. “The festivals most people think of are primarily white male spaces, and that never sat well with me. We try to bring in as many diverse voices and opinions as possible — and it’s been amazing! The array of music, education, and participation we experience reflects that and makes the environment so much richer.”

This year Beardfest took additional steps to promote inclusion by creating family-friendly programming and an LGBTQ+ Safe Space Jenna Forte and Kaley Lacovetta worked together to create. Both women shared their own experiences of occasionally feeling overwhelmed at social gatherings. Kaley said, “Sometimes I need a space where I can feel tender and protected.” She adds, “Regardless of whether or not a person expresses that need or not, there has been overwhelming support for its existence.”

The open-mindedness and progress represented at Beardfest is one example of a growing movement to celebrate inclusion, empower diverse voices, and educate the general public about the value of accepting and supporting all people.

Learn more about the organizations mentioned in this article by visiting www.deutschinstitue.org, www.vervevertu.blogspot.com, www.nepainclusive.org, and www.beardfest.net.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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