How I Advocate For Inclusion In My Community
Most people don’t intentionally adopt ableist beliefs and practices. It’s tough to see the world through a perspective you’ve never shared. Many folks simply don’t realize the importance of inclusivity until a lack of it affects them or someone they love.
Education and advocacy are paramount to raising awareness and providing accessible opportunities for everyone. Here are five ways I advocate for inclusion in my community.
1. I Advocate for Accessible Public Spaces
Can you imagine paying a small fortune in tuition and arriving early for your first day of classes — only to discover that you couldn’t access the building where your professor awaits? Unfortunately, this experience isn’t unfamiliar to students who require wheelchairs for mobility.
It’s astounding how many places are off-limits to folks who require mobility devices. Even uneven playground surfaces prevent children who rely on such devices from fully engaging in play, elevating their risk of falls and injury and posing navigational challenges. Unpaved, narrow walkways prevent those in chairs from entering at all.
Furthermore, many public spaces pose issues for non-neurotypical children who quickly grow overwhelmed with sensory stimuli — like brightly lit shopping centers with noisy PA systems. Providing a quiet area or room where such individuals can take a time out and regroup prevents meltdowns and help parents teach self-soothing skills instead of “time to go,” becoming their default position when their child feels bombarded.
Making these upgrades often costs relatively little. However, people without such disabilities often overlook their needs, not out of malice but ignorance. I attend public meetings when facility upgrades make the minutes and contribute my perspective.
2. I Keep a Wide Friendship Circle
I might know a lot about working with people with disabilities. However, I’m not an expert on the indignities and injustices of folks with different racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, that doesn’t stop me from learning and taking action in solidarity.
I educate myself by expanding my social circle to include people of all backgrounds. Doing so isn’t always comfortable — I’ve recognized my unconscious biases more than once, but it’s always worth it.
Stepping back and looking at the world through a different lens is an outstanding mindfulness practice. It also helps you connect with others if you’re inherently shy. All you have to do is actively listen and try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
3. I Attend Cultural Events
Some cultural celebrations are hard to miss. For example, you can hardly fail to get in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit if you live in Chicago and drive past their bright green river on March 17.
However, chances are you have plenty of cultural events happening near you and they provide a glorious way to spend a pleasant afternoon with your family while advocating for inclusivity. Your child’s attitudes begin in the home. Exposing them to various festivities and historical perspectives helps them understand the diverse ways of understanding the world around them from a young age.
Therefore, keep an eye on your local community billboards or sites like Nextdoor. You can also sign up for the mailing list of various museums and cultural heritage centers. When that new African art exhibit opens at your local gallery, you’ll be the first to attend.
4. I Spend My Money Wisely
In our capitalistic society, your money represents your values. I’m far from perfect, but I strive to spend my hard-earned cash on businesses that advocate for inclusion and diversity and employ fair trade practices.
Like many moms, I spend most of my dollars at the grocery store. I seek fair trade products that employ sustainable practices and promote social responsibility through living wages and safe working conditions.
When it’s time for back-to-school shopping, my littles and I pop tags like a Macklemore song. Doing so supports small local thrift stores, many of whom employ a diverse team, giving back to the community. Furthermore, my kiddos often find sustainable designer brands for a fraction of the retail price.
5. I Educate Others About Inclusivity
Finally, I do my best to gently educate others about inclusivity issues. I do so formally by attending school board and city council meetings. Informally, I identify “teachable moments” and take advantage of them to raise awareness.
For example, my child’s school recently wanted to organize a reward field trip to a local skating rink. I pitched in beyond chaperoning, helping put together a fundraising bake sale so that kids in families experiencing economic hardship could also attend.
Once at the event, I served as the official time-out monitor, creating a small sensory space where children could collect themselves after growing overwhelmed. Additionally, I helped negotiate extra game tokens for students whose mobility issues wouldn’t allow them to skate so that they could pursue alternative activities and still participate in the fun.
How I Advocate for Inclusion in My Community
Most people don’t intentionally espouse behaviors and practices that exclude others. They simply don’t recognize the challenges faced by people whose lives are very different from theirs.
Raising awareness is the best way to ensure everyone gets a slice of the pie. I use the above five techniques to advocate for inclusion in my community and I urge all parents to do the same so that all children can feel welcomed and loved.
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