Inclusion is a Skill: Let’s Learn It.

Special Olympics DC Bowling-2019

Here’s a paradox: A world more connected than ever seems more divided than ever. Indeed, pointing out this pervasive division and exclusion nears cliché. But if exclusion is such a defining issue, so too is inclusion: the lack of it, the need for it. We believe that inclusion is not only the issue of our time, it is today’s most needed skill.

That’s why we have been preparing to meet this moment. Today begins the second decade of Spread the Word, a campaign fueled by an audacious vision and an ambitious plan: a vision for a world where all people are valued and included, and a plan to tackle one painful means of exclusion – the word “retard(ed).” But the grassroots leaders of our campaign have seen what we have all felt: The world of 2019 calls for a bigger plan to reach this vision. It is no longer enough to stop the hurt caused by the R-word. It is time to create inclusion.

This pivot for Spread the Word comes not a moment too soon. Since 2009, we have witnessed tremendous strides for inclusion for and by those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), with examples like the rise of self-advocates in media and politics and the rapid growth of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools and Best Buddies chapters in the United States and around the world.

Special Olympics DC Bowling-2019

But we have also witnessed a global rise in division, hate, and exclusion aimed at people of all kinds. And people with IDD continue to face tremendous obstacles. In recent surveys, 60% of respondents felt that people with IDD should be segregated from their non-disabled peers in schools and workplaces. Those with IDD continue to suffer disproportionately and systemically from underemployment; higher rates of social abuse and bullying, crime, and sexual violence; underserved physical and mental health needs; and more.

To a world that needs it, we offer our most important learning from these past 10 years: Inclusion is a skill. Including those who are different is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and taught. Rather than resign to a state of division and exclusion, we can all resolve to learn the skill of inclusion.

When we realize that inclusion is a skill – and that exclusion and discrimination are the lack of this skill – we can approach the world not as a place of bigotry and hatred, but of underdeveloped skills. We can replace our blame mongering for this exclusion with earnest questions: How do we develop these skills of inclusion? Where? With whom? From whom?

We’ve learned an answer to these questions in another seeming paradox: those who have suffered most from exclusion may have the most to teach about inclusion. Over the last decade we’ve learned that self-advocates with IDD are amongst the world’s best teachers of inclusion. Those whose differences have been most feared can most help all of us overcome our fear of difference. They are the teachers our world needs more than ever.

STW - Timbo-Soeren.jpg

Today, these teachers are among the leaders of Spread the Word - young and old, with and without disabilities, in schools and workplaces around the world - calling each of us to develop our skills of inclusion by committing to a concrete act of inclusion. Sit together at lunch, be co-advocates for welcome and inclusion in the workplace, join each other as friends and equals in schools and in the community. We invite you to join us and commit to an act of inclusion here.

These grassroots leaders are challenging us to be brave and overcome our fear of difference. They are challenging us to realize that each strengthened skillset of inclusion chips away the systems of division and exclusion. They are challenging us to #pledgetoinclude and spread the word to ensure those around us do too.

Whether you have a disability or not, you might find this challenge difficult – that’s ok, developing a skill or building a muscle is supposed to be, at least a little bit. Here’s the good news: There are tools available and people ready to join you. Want to practice inclusion as a teammate? Join a Special Olympics Unified Sports team, where people with and without IDD come together to play sport. Want to practice inclusion as a friend, co-worker, or employer? Then join Best Buddies in your school, community, or workplace.

We hope that we all realize what these grassroots champions have: That the skills of inclusion developed when bringing together people with and without IDD can transcend the differences of disability. Indeed, they’ve learned that the skill of inclusion is transferable; once practiced, it can embrace all forms of human difference with dignity and welcome.

They invite us all to learn what they’ve learned. Join them and #pledgetoinclude today.

Onward.