What does inclusion mean? More than just “being included” or “not being excluded,” inclusion provides a sense of belonging, feeling respected and valued for who you are. Inclusive communities work to prevent or remove barriers, physical or otherwise, so everyone can participate regardless of ability, race, religion, or identity.
Recently, we’ve seen some wonderful examples of inclusion of children and young adults with disabilities in the media: “Sesame Street” brought Julia, a muppet with autism, out of the books and onto the live show; “Julie’s Greenroom,” Julie Andrews’ new show on Netflix, features a talented musician puppet who happens to use a wheelchair; “Speechless” on ABC centers on a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy and uses a communication board; Target and Toys R’ Us regularly feature children with disabilities in their print and television campaigns. This year’s winning national Google Doodle is a great example of inclusion: a line of kids of all identities, arm in arm (with some clever ASL signs in the background). All of these examples place children with disabilities in the middle of the action, sometimes as the center of the story, other times as just one of the characters moving the story along. More importantly, they place kids with disabilities in the middle of their peers, with and without disabilities; included instead of separated.
We are also seeing more actors with disabilities in roles where the disability is and is not central to the character’s story. The producers of “Speechless” made a point of casting Micah Fowler, an actor who has cerebral palsy, in the role of J.J. rather than using an actor without a disability. Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s Disease, had a recurring role on The Good Wife playing a lawyer with a movement disorder. Deaf West included Deaf and hearing actors in its 2016 revival of Spring Awakening, giving deeper meaning to the story of teens emerging into adulthood. By contrast, actors like Marlee Matlin (The Magicians) and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell (Ed, NCIS: New Orleans) have played roles where their disability was not central to the character and was rarely dealt with in story lines. Hollywood still has a tendency to cast actors without disabilities in roles where they must “act” like they have a disability such as blindness or intellectual disability. We hope casting directors will look to the growing community of actors with disabilities and make Tinsel Town a more inclusive place.
How can you support inclusion in your community? Here are some resources from the NIDILRR community which can help:
- Inclusion resources from the RRTC on Community Living and Participation of Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities – tools and guides to fostering inclusion at work, at houses of worship, in school, at home, and in the community.
- Making homes visitable by people with disabilities, from Dot Nary, PhD, at the Research and Training Center on Independent Living.
- Fun in Play: Independence, assistance, effort, and difficulty. A study from two NIDILRR-funded field initiated projects.
- Parents with Disabilities and Their Children: Promoting Inclusion and Awareness in the Classroom – a guide for classroom teachers grades 1 through 6 from the National Center on Parents with Disabilities at Through the Looking Glass.
- Impact: Feature issue on supporting the social well-being of children and youth with disabilities from the RRTC on Community Living for Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities.
And here are resources from the greater disability and rehabilitation community:
- Creating Inclusive Play and Community Spaces – an out-of-the-box approach to social and emotional inclusion, published by the Institute for Community Inclusion.
- IncFit – the Inclusive Fitness Coalition, dedicated to inclusive exercise, play, and fitness of all stripes.
- VSA Arts – the international organization focused on arts and disability, has programs and resources to create inclusive arts programs.
- Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) – assists employers in developing practices for inclusive recruiting, hiring, and retention of employees with disabilities.
Want to dive deeper? Explore literature on inclusion in our collection:
- Inclusion and the arts
- Inclusion and education
- Inclusion and employment
- Inclusion and sports/fitness
These are just a few ways to explore more than 200,000 abstracts of disability and rehabilitation literature indexed in our collection. Try your own search or chat with an information specialist to explore further!