A New Way of Thinking?
A conference sponsored by
The Laidlaw Foundation and
Canadian Council on Social Development
November 8, 2021
Social inclusion in context:
Experiences of Exclusion to a
Vision of Inclusion
It is a great privilege to be here.
Privilege, to get right to the heart of the matter, is the
operative word. It is
our starting point, our stumbling block, our crucible test.
It confronts me with the uneasy question:
How is it that I enjoy red-ribboned name tag, lavalière
microphone, simultaneous translation and the momentarily rapt
attention of an entire room full of fine minds and noble hearts,
while so many others meet only with rejection, struggle and
insurmountable barriers in their pursuit of the most basic
necessities of life?
a long time human rights activist, I have come to believe that the
answer, at least in part, arises from the fact that an exclusive
focus upon rights and entitlement is not adequate to the challenge
of promoting, respecting and protecting lives of dignity and
equality for all citizens. Everywhere around us, if we
are honest and attentive, we can see plainly that the entrenchment
of rights has been and continues to be matched by the entrenchment
of poverty, abuse and despair.
My point here is that, as critical as rights are in our movement toward
social justice, the protection of rights in and of itself is not
sufficient -- was not sufficient, for example, to protect Tracy
Latimer. Dignity and
equality do not only trickle down from great lines of law and
jurisprudence. They also and equally bubble up from the ground of respect
that each of us brings to our relationships with those whom
we perceive to be different from ourselves in some fundamental way. Failure of authentic relationship cries out from the Tracy
Latimer tragedy just as much if not more than failure in the
protection of rights.
me explain in this way. Much
of our focus in disability theory, disability studies and disability
activism is access.
On the one hand, access is a straightforward matter, a matter
mostly of bricks and mortar or lumber and nails and elbow grease.
Most of us, when we first think of access, think of ramps and
curb cuts and coveted parking spaces. Let me call this Access 101.
Here in this room -- and outside in our legislatures and our
courtrooms -- people understand the language and the mechanisms of
is, however, much more to access than getting into conference
centres or up onto speakers' podiums.
A lot happens along the road from the disabling accident,
illness or genetic anomaly to the front door of the conference
centre or the podium ramp. Those of us who know every turn in that road understand at
the core of our being that access is not simply about making
our way into buildings. Access
is about making our way into human community.
deeper level of access -- let's call it the Access Graduate Seminar
-- invites us into and engages us within a dynamic of access to
respect, access to a sense of oneself as a whole person, access to
identity as a valued contributor, a bearer of rights, knowledge and
Seen through the lens of disability, social inclusion is therefore about
access to human relationship.
My research for the Laidlaw Foundation, focusing
upon the experiences of young people with disabilities in both
inclusive and exclusionary educational and social contexts, suggests
two fundamental principles:
that the experience of inclusion forges relationships of mutual regard
and respect, and further,
the engagement in such relationships accords resilience and
surety to rights entitlement.
When young people are connected, embraced within relationships of
friendship and mutual attention, they are safe and secure, with
their entitlements and status intact.
we work toward the development of a shared vision over the next two
days, I suggest that we envision our task as that of constructing a
gateway. This gateway,
which invites us into a just society, consists of two pillars --
pillars of equal weight and proportion. The first is the pillar of inclusion; the second is the
pillar of equality. Parallel to our efforts to secure rights, we must work
with equal consciousness and zeal to promote and secure relationships
in which human value and purpose are affirmed.
What can we do -- as policymakers, researchers, theorists and activists
-- to promote and protect opportunities in which inclusive
relationships will flourish? Let
me suggest four conditions as vital.
Proximity – We have to rub shoulders.
Of course inclusion means much more than mere proximity, but
it means nothing and leads nowhere without proximity. Whether or not
Michael is physically able to play hockey on his twin brother’s
team, he is still a team member and he belongs with his mates in the
locker room and in the players' box.
Once he’s there, and only once he's there, the alchemy of
inclusion can begin.
Non-Interference – Time and again, disabled youth tell researchers
that adults need to support by backing off!
We need to hear this message. Rachel can’t be permitted to
put herself at risk by running out into traffic, but neither should
she be singled out for constant adult supervision.
A companion dog, trained to work with children with autism,
provides the safety she requires and, in the bargain, draws friends
to Rachel like a magnet.
Time – An inclusive Rome definitely won’t be built in a day.
Whatever programs or policies we design, whenever measures or
indicators we elect to monitor, we must remember that people need time
to form relationship. Jason’s
first day of inclusive high school was confusing, frightening and
discouraging. But Jason
has proved himself tougher than anyone expected.
This year he’s running for student council!
Shared Enterprise – We discover each other by working together.
We have to leave some of the work of social inclusion -- well
-- undone. A lot
of work and planning went into building an accessible and fully
supported summer camp program.
But at the end of the day, setting up their tents and
building a campfire together was what ignited the friendships that
secured Maria’s place in the circle.
simple conditions – neither unique nor extraordinary. In a way, they parallel our own process -- what we are doing
here, today and tomorrow. Rubbing
shoulders, taking time to reflect, expressing, exploring and
building together, under the gentle and open guidance of our hosts.
the unspeakable horrors of September 11, we know that victims and
survivors alike reacted with a single overwhelming impulse. They reached for the keypads of their cell phones and their
computers. They reached
out, not for the cold comforts of technology and material property,
but for precious moments of human connection that these tools
afforded. Because when we are forced by circumstance of extremity to
declare what we value above all else, the answer, it seems,
universally and without exception, is relationship.
Frazee is an author, teacher, human rights activist and former Chair
of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
more on the theme of time click here.
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