Welcome back HeadStarters!
What a year it has been! As we usher a new year in the Lunar calendar, it is but apt to be thankful for everything that we went through in the year of the Rat. We entered an era so unique and unprecedented, no one knows when and how it will end. This pandemic has affected the most vulnerable people in the society and people with disabilities are not spared from it. But we learned and still learning how to live with it. We learned to move forward.
As we look towards a better tomorrow, I would like to open a discussion about how we are faring in the practice of Inclusion of people with disabilities in our society. In my previous blog, I’ve discussed why we need to be talking more about Inclusive Education. Read more here.
In 2007, Singapore has unveiled the Enabling Masterplan that aims to move the country to a more inclusive society and to ensure that individuals with disabilities have a productive and beneficial future for both themselves and society. While the government and our lawmakers play important roles in making this a reality, probably one of the biggest factors we need to consider is the role of the public in this masterplan.
According to Walker & Musti-Rao (2016), “providing more comprehensive support for the physical, psychological, and social well- being of all students may help to create a more inclusive society where all individuals are appreciated for who they are as people beyond their academic performance”. So, what can we do in the community to make this happen?
I listed 6 simple ways that we can do every day to foster a more inclusive society.
The way we use our language shapes our beliefs and values. So, when talking about people with disabilities, understand that they are first and foremost people with individual skills, talents, interests, and needs. Just like everybody else. When we use language that puts people first, we are emphasizing the person and not the disability. For example, instead of saying “Down Syndrome kid”, use “a child with Down Syndrome”.
On the other hand, some people on the Autism Spectrum prefer to be called Autistic people or Autistics rather than people with Autism because they consider their disabilities to be inseparable parts of who they are.
People would have certain preferences to be called a certain way. Thus, the safest way is to ask the person themselves how they would want to be called and respect their preferences.
The once considered acceptable words and phrases about disability have changed over time. Many words and phrases that are once widely used are now considered offensive and have attached negative connotations. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the use of appropriate language. Words like “lame,” “crazy,” “morons,” “imbecile,” “insane,” “OCD,” “schizophrenic,” etc., and saying things like “I have ADHD” when you really don’t, trivializes these serious conditions.
As Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg (2018) put it perfectly, “they were terms of oppression, and every time someone uses one without respect for the history of disabled people, they disrespect the memory of the people who had to carry those terms to their graves.”
This can be done as simple as opening the doors for people in wheelchairs, making way for them along the walkway or when the bus or lift doors open, or carrying a package for them. Offering help whenever you see an opportunity should be a natural thing to do. Spare a moment, look up from our mobile devices and be present at the moment. The only thing to remember is to ask first, and if they say, “no, thank you”, respect their wishes and say “Ok, have a nice day!”
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Hearing Impairment, traumatic brain injury, aphasia are examples of possible disabilities that are not seen from the outside. Some may look able and does not show physical disability, so never assume! When you see someone rocking back and forth inside the bus, flapping their hands, and who may occasionally yell vulgarities or sing very loudly, please do not tell them off or even take videos of them with the intention of sharing them on social media. Have a little bit of compassion and understanding of such differences.
At some point in our lives, we have had prejudices and cultural biases against children with disabilities. We grew up in a culture that children with different abilities belong in a special school. As a society, our cultural mindsets must evolve. According to Walker & Musti-Rao (2016), children with and without disabilities must play, grow and learn together if we want to move forward to be an inclusive society.
You can volunteer to different organizations that serve people with disabilities and bring your children along. Make an effort to get to know the people in your community. Let your children play in the playground with your neighbor’s child who may have a speech impairment. It is important to encourage our children to learn and play with all their peers, whether they have differences or not. Individual differences shouldn’t be a barrier to friendships.
Educate our children with compassion and make it a daily practice. Our society needs to be more open and accepting of different people regardless of culture, sexuality, and abilities.
Very often, people with disabilities are seen with limitations and are often forgotten that they are human beings too! This disregards the complexity of being humans. People with disabilities want to be treated like everybody else. Sometimes, people can forget that people with disabilities are human beings with dreams, desires, and aspirations. They too go through heartaches, loss, success, anxiety, just like everyone else! At the basis of every person are the similarities we all share for being human, and that includes people with disabilities.
These are just a few things on the long list we can do towards building an inclusive society. Inclusion does not happen overnight. As Singapore pushes forward to a more inclusive community, we can all help eradicate individual prejudices against people with disabilities. Inclusion is for everyone.
Cotten-Rosenberg, R. (2018, October 27). People Ask When Being Called Out for Using Ableist Language. Retrieved from: https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/on-ableist-language/
Walker, Zachary & Musti-Rao, Shobana (2016). Inclusion in high achieving Singapore: Challenges of building an inclusive society in policy and practice. Global Education Review, 3 (3). 28-42