The butterfly effect is “the idea that small, seemingly trivial events may ultimately result in something with much larger consequences. In other words, they have non-linear impacts on very complex systems. For instance, when a butterfly flaps its wings in India, that tiny change in air pressure could eventually cause a tornado in Iowa”
A similar theory is the ripple effect.
“A ripple effect occurs when an initial disturbance to a system propagates outward to disturb an increasingly larger portion of the system, like ripples expanding across the water when an object is dropped into it”.
Don’t worry, you are still reading the Blind People Don’t Mingle blog and not Science Digest, and I won’t be getting all scientific here. However, the other day I heard someone mention the butterfly effect and it seems to be sticking in my head. And when something gets stuck in my head, I turn it over in a hundred different ways, I think about it constantly and now that I think about it i—there is a ripple effect in my thinking! See what I did there?
It’s actually sticking in my head because as I consider the butterfly effect, it speaks to what I believe and why I do everything I do.
If you have read any of my blog posts or articles or if you have ever heard me speak on a panel or to a group, you know that I believe that when we change assumptions about disabilities, and we change people’s mind sets, we inform behavior and action. Those shifts in behavior and actions can create a butterfly effect --larger more lasting change in our communities and our systems. And sometimes it starts with a small thing.
This sounds very esoteric and theoretical so let’s see if I can make it less theoretical and more real. Most three-year-old children are blank slates; they come to situations without preconceived notions, without stereotypes and with few if any assumptions about people with disabilities. The first real social experience they have is preschool. Now let’s say that on day one of this first social experience, there is a child in the classroom with a disability, and from day one that disabled child is included as equally as the non-disabled child. From day one of preschool a story is starting to be written on both children’s slates. When that child experiences a peer with a disability in their environment, disabled people in our communities become a norm; the story on their slate is we are all different in different ways and having a disability is just a part of the human experience. But we all belong and the story written on the disabled child’s slate is: I belong just like the non-disabled child.
When the norm for a non-disabled child becomes the experience that disabled children are valued, included and belong, this is the mindset that becomes their experience and the story on their slate. As children go through school with the mindset of inclusion and that we are all the same in different ways, they make different and better assumptions about people with disabilities and they see capabilities. They go to day camp and overnight camp with their peers who are disabled and now the inclusion of people with disabilities is a norm for them and their mindset is to be inclusive.
These same three-year-olds are now in college needing to choose an educational path toward a career path. Their life experiences to this point have influenced their lives in such a way that they do not think it is extraordinary to have disabled students in their classes, dorms clubs or social events. They may decide to go into special education or go into law and focus on disability law. Perhaps they become a politician and they influence legislation that impacts people with disabilities. Maybe they become a business owner who is committed to creating a culture of belonging in their business, or whatever setting they may find themselves in, they are committed to accessibility in all its forms. I could go on, but I think you get the point. One act of those three-year-olds together in the classroom from day one has a ripple effect. Those three-year olds together in school 20 plus years later has had an impact that has had a butterfly effect in our communities for the next generations.
Furthermore, there is a long-lasting butterfly effect in terms of the disabled child as well.
They feel valued, and have the expectation that they are capable and have the right to the same experiences as their non-disabled peers. They have different expectations for themselves that they may not have had in a non-inclusive environment.
Based on the theory of the butterfly effect I believe the things we do today to influence assumptions about people with disabilities will have a ripple effect that will have a huge impact in the future!
When I was in Israel recently, I bought this glass with Hebrew words that translate to the following:
"in order to create a big change, you don’t have to do big things; you have to do small things with great love."
I love this and believe that small changes today will have a butterfly effect for a better, more inclusive tomorrow. What small change can you make today toward equality for people with disabilities that will create a butterfly and ripple effect?