A few years ago, Doug Tennant and I had the pleasure to entertain a couple of communications specialists who gracefully gave us tips to expertly disseminate our message in the community. While we engaged in an hour and half conversation talking passionately about issues related to community living, our guests dumbfounded me by interjecting a couple of obvious questions: “What does inclusion mean?” and “What is person-centered thinking?”
In my stupor, I thought, “Are you serious? You don’t know what inclusion means?” My surprise was short lived as I realized that, by being so entwined with our mission, I had become oblivious to the meaning of the verbiage. Then, it occurred to me that we write often about inclusion and person-centered thinking in our newsletter and blog and, in doing so, we assume that our readers automatically understand the significance of our message.
What does inclusion mean? What is person-centered thinking? I won’t be able to answer these complex questions totally in a few short paragraphs, but I hope to elicit some understanding by sharing a snippet of how people involved with our Society convey inclusiveness and person-centeredness. In doing so, I do not attempt to separate the concepts, because, in my opinion, the two are philosophically related.
Employees of Semiahmoo House Society work very hard with people who have developmental disabilities in creating opportunities for them to experience life to the fullest and to feel included in society like any other citizen. This means, members of our staff are curious about what is important to and for people they support and facilitate holistic activities that foster their involvement in their own lives and in their community.
Together, they set goals for decision making, socialization, skill development, employment, community involvement, recreation and wellness, while ensuring that medical and physical needs are also met. In turn, people participate enthusiastically in their self-development plan and work hard at learning new skills. The result is increased quality of life for people with developmental disabilities and their family, a sense of great satisfaction for the employees and the creation of awareness for the greater community.
For me, person-centered thinking and inclusion are not concepts and practices aimed exclusively toward one segment of the population. On the contrary, these concepts and practices are based on reciprocity. Thinking otherwise would defeat the very nature of person-centered thinking and inclusion. In fact, I hope you have read our article about our eco-heroes in this blog. It tells a tale of reciprocity in that people who receive our services are also making a difference in the lives of others who face similar challenges.
You might say, “Good for you guys! People associated with your organization have the opportunity day to day to promote inclusion and person-centeredness. But what can I do? I don’t work in your field. I’m not even related to your mission.” My answer is that prejudice and discrimination remain rampant in many aspects of human organization. This means that, in some way, we are all affected by, contribute to, or are related otherwise to these social issues. It further means that we all have the opportunity and… the responsibility to create inclusion and practice person-centeredness.
It begins by anchoring the ideology in our own minds and then acting out small things that amount to a lot, such as, smiling at a stranger, saying “hi” to someone passing by, talking with someone standing in line next to us; that’s simple enough. In time, it is important to become more purposeful with our attitudes by shifting our stance and looking at diverse others from their perspective; that’s more difficult, but it’s possible if we’re conscious. Simply put, that is person-centered thinking and inclusion.
As mentioned earlier, I cannot possibly write about all the intricacies of person-centeredness and inclusion in one short article. In reality, I’m not an expert on the subject. However, I believe that we can contribute to global learning by relaying our own insights and talking about the issues.
For these reasons, I would encourage you to continue reading the articles in our Treehouse newsletter and in our blog at SemiahmooFoundation.com. Each story, event, announcement or statement relates a tale of inclusion and person-centeredness. Additionally, we are interested in your own experiences. We are inclusive in that way. If you have something to say or a story to contribute, we would be happy to publish your articles.
What does inclusion mean? What is person-centered thinking? Are these obvious questions? Please engage in the conversation.
By Louise Tremblay, UNITI