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Inclusion: what is it really?

I have just celebrated my 65th birthday, and I am recognizing that with my advancing age, I have become more opinionated, more impatient, and more intolerant in certain situations. My list of pet peeves has gotten a bit longer and my ability to remain tactful has gotten shorter, especially if I’m really pissed off!

I could write a weekly blog just on my pet peeves and maybe one day I will, but right now, I just want to focus on one topic that is really frustrating me: It is the subject of inclusion of people with disabilities.

I’ll clarify: I am a strong advocate of inclusion in general. I advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion of all marginalized groups. But this post is about inclusion of people with disabilities specifically.

What is inclusion? It is intentionally and actively creating a culture whose core belief is that

everyone –in this case, people with disabilities--has the same right to the same opportunities. It is believing that including people with disabilities in all aspects of our communities is the right, moral, and just thing to do and beneficial to all members of a society. It is a commitment to making sure adequate policies and practices that allow inclusion are in effect in businesses, organizations, and all other aspects of any community.

Inclusion should enable social interaction. People with disabilities should be expected and

enabled to participate fully in social activities, use public resources like transportation and public buildings; they should be able to work, play, receive adequate health care, have relationships, and enjoy day to day activities. In short, they should, just like everybody else, be able to live full, productive lives.

How can this goal be accomplished? A society must begin by identifying and eliminating

barriers to full participation by people with disabilities. These barriers fall into two categories: physical barriers and attitudinal barriers. Physical barriers are the easier to address. Attitudinal barriers are more complicated because they require understanding people’s feelings and long-held beliefs and prejudices.

So that is what inclusion is and how it can be accomplished. But let me tell you also what

inclusion is not: Inclusion is not a marketing word used on a website because it is an attractive buzzword to sell or promote something.

It is not a word that one uses to raise money from funders, grantors, or other sources. It is not a word to make the user sound woke or sexy or to show that all boxes on a list have been checked.

No organization, business or other entity can call itself inclusive if it does not have any

employees who have disabilities. No boardroom or table of influence or power can be

considered inclusive unless people with disabilities have a place at it.

Making such a place requires a deliberate and focused effort on the part of those with power to recruit and retain talent from the disabled community. It requires the absolute conviction that inclusion is central to the overall health and productivity of an organization. It must be in that organization’s DNA and not simply a talking point.

The culture of inclusivity requires an ongoing and deep commitment to training staff, ensuring budgetary resources, removing physical barriers, providing accommodations and making safe spaces for people with disabilities to do their jobs, feel part of the workforce and an integral component of that work place’s success.

The cost of inclusion is not as expensive as some people think. But the cost of not being

inclusive is astronomical in terms of lost opportunity for everyone who makes up an

organization. Real inclusion must be company or organization-wide. All departments and

programs must be part of the planning and execution of inclusionary aspects.

And here is the most important part of this movement: “Nothing about us without us!” I am a strong proselytizer of this mantra. To create the culture and implement the necessary

modifications and accommodations, people with disabilities must be in integral part of the

process at each step. Our voices, our lived experiences must be shared, and our expertise noted.

Only together can we plan, educate, and create solutions that benefit all.

And the work doesn’t end. True inclusion, not just the semblance of it, is an ongoing living

thing requiring constant attention and most of all heart. But in the end, the result will be worth it.

For everyone.

People of all shapes, sizes, races, disabilities mingling together

About Michelle:

Before anyone gets all up in arms about the title of my blog, let me introduce myself and my blog and

then I’ll explain the title. My name is Michelle Friedman, and I have been totally blind for 29 years, and was legally blind for 27ish

years before that. I attended elementary school, high school, college and graduate school long before the ADA, section

504 of the Rehabilitation act, and long before mainstream, accommodations and inclusion were a thing

in school. My parents were adamant That I attend the Jewish day school rather than a school for kids with visual impairments. They saw me

as a typical child with a visual problem that could be handled with special equipment like magnifying

glasses, accommodations like sitting close to the board, getting tutoring and thickly lined paper which

were often a fight with the schools that were ill equipped to handle a disabled child. The school wasn’t

welcoming and embracing, but for better or worse (and in the end I do believe it was for the better) my

parents prevailed. The consequence of being the only disabled child in school was that since I was

“only” visually impaired, albeit significantly, I didn’t want to be othered and made every effort to “pass”.

There were consequences to that, but I will get into that in another post. It wasn’t until 1980 at the age

of 23 when I got my first job at Access Living a newly opened independent living center staffed by people

with disabilities that I learned to embrace my disability.

Fast forward 40 some odd years I am now a disability advocate, speaker, writer on issues related to

disability, children’s book author, wife, mother and grandmother. I currently am the board chair of a

large organization in Chicago whose mission is to create a community of belonging where people with

disabilities learn, play, work, live and grow with people of all abilities. I have served in leadership roles

on many boards of schools, camps and social service agencies in the Chicago area and am a member of

Disability Lead.

That is enough about me for now. If you follow my blog, you will learn more about my journey, my

thoughts, my frustrations in future blogs-and trust me I have no shortage of opinions.

For now, I just want to introduce myself and now I will share why I’m calling this blog Blind People Don’t


I believe that the only way that we will have true inclusion of people with disabilities is through a shift in

mindset about disability. Mindset informs action, and if we can create awareness, educate and influence

assumptions about disability we can create real change. When we can change societies views about

disability from disability being something not normal, something to fear, and see it as just another part

of the human experience we may see real equality and justice for people with disabilities, but I believe

this requires education and awareness-more on this too in future posts.

Why the title? I was recently at a bridal shower for the daughter of a dear friend. My friends and I were

all hostesses. It was the first time we had hosted a shower since before the pandemic and in truth the

first time I’ve had the experience I had at this particular shower. Suffice it to say it was one of the more

miserable experiences I have had in a very long time. My friends were busy setting up and serving and

basically, I was given the job of putting candy and nuts in bowl which was fine, but once I was done with

my job and all the other ladies were still setting up and serving, I was essentially sitting around with

pardon my crudeness my thumb up my ass. My friends were busy, I didn’t know some of the other

guests I couldn’t get food on my own and the usual people who always offer to help were either busy or

not in attendance. I wasn’t mad at anyone, I know my friends would be devastated to know what

happened, they are always supportive and helpful and attentive to my needs. it was just a perfect storm;

a lot of people, a lot of hostesses, a crowded house and me in the middle of that unable to see a thing

making socializing pretty impossible. fact I know my friends care in fact 2 of my friends called the next

day to apologize and say that they felt terrible that they “left me in the lurch”-I understood I really did

and I’m very forgiving because they have always been there in every way the last 40 years, but it was a

hard night. The other guests who I didn’t know and they didn’t know me I’m guessing had no idea what

to do or how to behave so I forgive them too and say people just need awareness and education, which

is something I try to do through my writing, speaking and community involvement.

What happened though was that I was retelling the story of the night to my sister I said “blind people

don’t mingle well”, her comment back to me was that that sounded like the title of a book, and it was

then and there I decided to start my blog in an effort to educate, to create awareness and to normalize

disability so that we can eventually be a society who sees disability in a different more inclusive way.

And so, I present my blog Blind People Don’t mingle, my thoughts and opinions, my ranting and ravings,

my calls to action and anything else that comes up for me. I will try to limit this to one blog a week so as

not to overwhelm anyone, and I would love if people commented, shared and even guest posted if you


Now you know a little about me, I hope you will follow me, enjoy, learn share and I will be back in a week,

see you then and yes blind people use the word “see” lol!!!

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