Commit to Inclusion is a Right, Not a Privilege

November 14, 2014
Allison Hoit

Article originally posted in the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability’s November 2014 Newsletter.

Written by Dr. James Rimmer

The lack of access to appropriate places to be physically active remains one of the greatest challenges to the self-promotion of health for many Americans with disabilities. While traditional barriers such as cost, transportation issues, inadequate support services, lack of professional training in disability, and accessibility issues in the built environment are often considered the major barriers that limit opportunities for people with disabilities to engage in active and healthy lifestyles, one barrier that may encompass all of them is lack of inclusion. Inclusion refers to the ability of an individual to be fully engaged in an event or activity without exposing the individual as being ‘special’ or needing ‘special’ services. The responsibility for inclusion comes from every member of the group, and there is no distinction between members.

Take for example the following three scenarios:  a fitness facility, a physical education class and a supermarket. Inclusion in a fitness facility requires equipment that has universal design features so that a member in a wheelchair can access the same equipment as other members. There are over a dozen manufacturers that make universally designed equipment that allows individuals in wheelchairs to access the same fitness equipment as other members. In a physical education class, the teacher and other students are responsible for supporting adaptations that would not tamper with the integrity of the game but would allow an individual with a disability to have equal opportunity to win or lose the game. In the grocery store scenario, a person could readily find and access the groceries he or she needs in and from a motorized shopping cart with an attached reaching device. For someone who is blind or has a cognitive disability, they could use an app on their phone or a borrowed store device that can be swiped over the bar code to hear nutritional information and pricing about each product.

Only in the most extreme circumstances do you want to bring someone in from the outside to support an individual who is on the inside. What that often does is create separation between group members. The group, which could be defined as a set of individuals who comprise a physical education class, employees who work in a restaurant or bar, or a community that is designing new trails and bike paths, is fully competent in promoting its own set of inclusive practices once it realizes how to do so.

Inclusion in health promotion and wellness activities is one of the most essential human rights in our society, no different from what curb cuts, ramps and accessible bathrooms did many years ago to allow people to leave their homes.  It’s time for our society to Commit to Inclusion, and there is no better place to start than on the playground. What happens there will transfer to other areas of life. We must continue building a society that does not judge someone by their disability, but rather, judges a community by its level of inclusion.