Finding Joy - One Word 365

Joy - One Word 365; Removing the Stumbling Block

As a blogger, sometimes I need a little inspiration. It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say, but there are times when it feels as though I have already said it, multiple times, in post after post. I guess that’s what they call writer’s block.

So, a couple of years ago, in searching for some inspiration, I stumbled across a project. The concept is pretty simple: Rather than making a long list of New Year’s Resolutions, you choose one word as your focus for the year. This concept feels far more real to me than resolutions. Quite frankly, I think most resolutions become wishful thinking pretty quickly.


There are many different ways to bring this project to life, but for most it is a way to sharpen their focus, attend to what really matters and bring a new level of intention to their writing and to their lives.

I let my choice for 2015 be guided by my commitment to inclusion. (My word for 2015 was intention.) I think I could have just as easily chosen the word reflection. I spent much time over the past year thinking deeply about my own personal practice of inclusion and seeking ways to merge that which permeates my professional life with my personal life. I feel proud of what I have accomplished.

Now, looking ahead to 2016, what jumps out at me is to focus on joy. I want to bring it into my life and my work with greater intention (I’m not leaving 2015 behind so quickly). I want to find the joy in the every day and I want to truly savor those joyous moments.

My “one word” for 2016 is JOY. What’s yours?

Teaching Fairness vs. Equality – A Classroom Activity

Teaching fairness vs. equality; Removing the Stumbling Block

The most popular posts on this blog are Fair Isn’t Equal and Teaching the Difference Between Fairness and Equality. With good reason. These are challenging concepts for children (and let’s face it, many adults) to fully wrap their brains around. Even when we understand the difference between these concepts, many find ourselves reverting back to the age-old whine, “It’s not fair.”

To review:

Fairness means that each person gets what he or she needs to be successful.

Equality is giving each person the exact same thing.

Further, fairness continues to be one of the most commonly used arguments against inclusion. “It’s not fair to hold some students back to prevent others from falling behind,” is just one of many myths that continues to be perpetuated by those who do not fully understand the concept of fairness. Therefore, for a classroom (or a school or an organization) to be truly inclusive, it is critical that the difference between fairness and equality be both understood and embraced.

A Classroom Activity:

  1. Place two rewards high up on a shelf, so high that only the tallest student/participant can reach them (even if it takes some stretching or a little jumping).
  2. Ask for volunteers. Say, “Anyone who can reach one can have it, no strings attached.” When the hands go up, choose the tallest person first.
  3. Ask for a second volunteer. Ignore the hands and select the shortest person in the room. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he will often go for a chair or table. Say, “You may not use a chair; that would be unfair. So and so did it under her own steam. You must do the same.” Participants will likely complain: “That’s not fair! He can’t help that he’s small.”
  4. Ponder their argument and say, “Okay, give me your best reasons for allowing him to use a chair or any other kind of assistance in reaching the reward when so and so had no help. How can that be fair?!?”
  5. Listen to participants argue their case, relent (which is what you were going to do anyway) and let the student use the chair to grab the reward.
If it is even necessary, refer back to this demonstration to explain why you do certain things in your differentiated, inclusive classroom with different students at different times in order to help each of them find success. They will get it. Fair isn’t always equal.

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Walking the Walk - Make Inclusion a Reality

Inclusion isn't always hard; Removing the Stumbling Block

Last week, in preparation for a four-day seminar on social justice for teens, I spent an hour and a half with one of the thirty students I would be bringing to Washington DC for what I knew would be an amazing experience. This is a student with dyslexia, so I wanted to ensure that she felt prepared to encounter the content and would not feel overwhelmed by the pace of the program and the often chaotic nature of the various activities.

I didn’t think twice about it, really; at least not until she reminded me. She told another member of our staff who popped in to say hello that I was “so great” for “giving up” my time to make sure she was ready. Gave up? Trust me. I gave up nothing.

What a gift to watch her eyes light up when I explained that one of the goals of this weekend was to teach teens to advocate. “You know,” I said, “like the way you tell someone that you need them to go slower or read something again because you have dyslexia. You advocate for yourself all the time.” I explained that our weekend would be focused on learning all about what it means to advocate for those we care about and for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves. “So you will be in a place surrounded by people who will be proud of you for speaking up for yourself,” I reassured her. She glowed.

you will be in a place surrounded by people who will be proud of you for speaking up for yourself; Removing the Stumbling Block

While I realize that this kind of work doesn’t come naturally to everyone, I often take my own efforts for granted. I am always surprised when I hear stories like this one: The program director and I were chatting on the first morning and he shared that another congregation sent a student, who is typically provided with an aide for support at regional youth events, to this program without support. Why? It wasn’t in their budget. And they didn’t share this with the program staff in advance (who would have readily offered financial support) but rather mentioned it as an aside once the program was under way when it was clear that the student needed additional support.

I was again reminded of the significance of our inclusive approach when a friend and staff member shared something she had said about me: “Lisa doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She spent an hour an a half with one student to prep just days before she had to be “on” for four days straight with thirty of them.” Ok, it’s lovely to receive such a compliment. But more importantly it’s just so critical to me that others know that inclusion isn’t always hard. We just have to do it. We just need to have the conversations, ask the questions and try our best to anticipate the “what ifs”.

I believe deeply in inclusion, so I make it a priority. You can make inclusion a priority, too.

Top Five Strategies For Your Inclusive Classroom

Flexibilty is a skill to make a teacher stand out; Removing the Stumbling Block
Structuring a successful inclusive classroom takes a lot of work and planning. You will quickly learn that flexibility is the greatest asset of any teacher, because as soon as you think you have it right, the needs of your students change and you will have to adapt and plan again. Thoughtful planning and intentional design will benefit all of your learners.

Top Five Strategies for Structuring an Inclusive Classroom Environment:

1.  A multi-sensory approach to learning 
This is exactly what it sounds like; an approach to education that engages all of the senses. Some of us learn best by listening, some through reading. Some of us need to write something down to commit it to memory. Others won’t remember unless they repeat it back out loud. Still others need to touch, taste or even smell to fully grasp a new concept. Consistent use of different instructional approaches increases the likelihood that learning will be meaningful, relevant and lasting.

All students should be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning; Removing the Stumbling Block

2.  Individualized expectations
Individualizing expectations are as fair for gifted students as they are for those with unique learning needs and anyone in between. It's a misnomer to believe that having different expectations for different students in the same classroom is unfair. Comparing students to one another is arbitrary. All students should be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning. Individualizing doesn’t “dumb down” the curriculum or hold students back. Instead, it allows students to develop and succeed according to their own individual needs.

3.  Station activities and centers
Learning centers; Removing the Stumbling BlockCenters are areas of the room that are dedicated to learning a specific topic or developing a specific skill and provide students with the opportunity to learn at their own pace. All students benefit as centers enable the delivery of instruction to be differentiated according to individual students’ needs. There are many different ways to structure centers within a classroom, and curricular choices will need to be made based on skill level, students’ ability to work independently and the number of staff available in the classroom.

4.  Clear of rules and expectations
Behavior management is critical to a successful learning environment. When students act out or are unable to focus, significant learning can not take place. Such behavior is indicative that needs are not being appropriately met. Create a classroom environment that reinforces positive behavior, stimulates attention and imagination and makes expectations clear.

5.  Be flexible!
A teacher’s ability to adapt and change plans when necessary is critical to the success of an inclusive classroom. Seasoned teachers know how to “read the room”. This means that they are in tune with their students’ needs and abilities and know when something isn’t going as planned. The flexibility to scrap a lesson altogether when it isn’t working, or even to capture an amazing moment and run with it instead of the planned lesson is a skill that makes a teacher truly stand out.

Please be in touch if you wish to schedule teacher training workshops that focus specifically on Jewish settings and supplemental schools to learn more about adapting these strategies to a religious school setting.

Inclusion is a State of Mind

When we embrace inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

There’s a significant uptick of energy in the Jewish Disability World right now. People are talking about this issue in ways they never have before - and organizations are (finally!) making commitments to change. 

At Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey we are not perfect, but I am so proud to be an integral part of a community that is committed to this ideal and is continually striving to improve.

We have always done this work because it is the right thing to do. We have made commitments of both time and money because no one should be left on the outside of congregational life. Ever. We do not do this work for the fanfare and certainly not because we owe it to someone. We do it because we owe it to EVERYONE. We all benefit when our communities are truly inclusive. It really is exciting to go to work every day and think about what we do well, while helping to discover ways that we can do it even better.

Temple Beth-El Exemplar Congregation; Removing the Stumbling BlockBut even though we don't do this work for the praise or recognition, there is no question that kavod (respect) for hard work and commitment is significant. I genuinely appreciate that our congregation had the opportunity to be honored at the recent URJ Biennial as an Exemplar Congregation is Disability Inclusion. It was a joy to celebrate our accomplishments and it was special to be surrounded by others committed to this holy work. At TBE we will use this honor as a springboard to continue to move forward, finding ever more ways to widen our reach and welcome everyone.

Inclusion matters. It's not a favor we do. It's not a program or a classroom or a social action project. Inclusion is a state of mind.
Because, quite frankly, what still stands in the way of inclusion in most communities is attitude:

"The biggest barrier to creating an inclusive program is not the lack of resources, knowledge, or accessible facilities. The biggest barrier is actually one of attitude...we must understand that inclusion is first and foremost a philosophy. It is a mindset and a belief that everyone has value and something to contribute. It is a willingness to see the ability in everyone and match skill with challenge. It is an understanding that what our programs really provide at their heart is the opportunity to build relationships, learn who we are, and develop skills. It is being committed to the process of making our programs accessible — not only in the physical sense, but also by ensuring that each person’s participation is meaningful….Once we understand that inclusion is not a place, a program, or a time-limited opportunity, and that it is a state of being and a way of operating that says “all are welcome,” we can overcome the practical barriers of resources, knowledge, and accessible facilities." ~ ACA (American Camping Association)

When we embrace that inclusion is who we are and who we want to be, we can always figure out how to make it happen. 

Is Julia Really the Only Muppet With a Disability?

When news hit the airways that Sesame Street was introducing it's first character to have Autism, Julia, people started talking. Not surprisingly, people have a lot to say.
Julia, is she really the only muppet with a disability? Removing the Syumbling Block

In Jewish education and synagogue life we have understood for a long time that it is impossible to please everyone. It doesn't mean that we don't have a vision and work toward it; rather we do exactly that by living and acting according to our values. But it does mean that sometimes we have to recognize that there are those we will not please.

So, too, is it with an initiatives like this one. Sesame Street has a vision to help the world celebrate the uniqueness in each and every child, and they have launched a project built on years of research whose goal is to highlight the commonalities among children, not their differences. They want to build empathy, compassion and work to reduce the epidemic of bullying our children face. They did their homework, focused on their target audience, and made thoughtful choices.

Are there critics? Of course there are. Just read the comment threads from any of the various articles and blog posts that have been posted. For as many people who applaud the effort there are equally as many who bash it.

I'm on the applaud-side of the fence, if you were wondering. But I don't think this is the first permanent Sesame Street character with a disability. In fact, I think there have been characters with disabilities woven into children's television for a very long time.

I suppose you could say inclusion is the lens through which I view the world. That may be true. But I think we all have that lens, we just might not always call it that. And so, if we are talking about identifying a character from children's television as having a specific disability, I have already been doing this for a long time. For as long as I can remember, I have been identifying the character in each show my children watch as the one with a disability:

We have long recognized Cookie Monster as a character who displays impulsive behavior.

We have chatted about Oscar's anger management struggles.

We have acknowledged that Ferb, of Phineas and Ferb fame, could possibly be selectively mute.

We have discussed Patrick Star's (SpongeBob's best friend) learning issues.

And there's Fozzie Bear, who interprets figurative language as literal, is not good at taking social cues, doesn’t read a room well, and tends to repeat himself long after the need has passed. Autism?

I believe there is such a character in every children's show. I have used this notion to help me teach my children to be accepting of disabilities. Is such a character named and classified? Definitely not. But do they exist? For sure. And I think this is far more inclusive, by the way.

It is, as this author deftly calls it, the Fozzie Conundrum. By far the most astute of all the articles I have read about the new Sesame Street initiative, she hits the nail on the head when she says, "We’ve known Fozzie for years and never needed anyone to explain away his eccentricities. In fact, we’ve loved his quirks and have never seen him as anything but Fozzie."

The Fozzie Conundrum. "Would knowing Fozzie had autism have changed the way we looked at him? Maybe." And that would be a shame. Because when we think about Fozzie we think about a character who is lovable, funny and a little bit quirky. 

The Fozzie Conundrum. "Would knowing Fozzie had autism have made it easier for his parents and friends to understand his behaviors as he grew into himself? Also maybe." It's a challenge.

We need to be aware that each of us is different; Removing the Stumbling Block

There's always a balance to be struck. Do we need better representation of disabilities on television and in mainstream media? Yes! But do we need to call attention to every difference among us and label it? Certainly not. We need to figure out how to land somewhere in the middle. 

We need to be aware that each one of us is different with gifts to offer the world and challenges to navigate. And this is exactly where Sesame Street gets it right. We need to celebrate the uniqueness that each and every child brings to the world.

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Target Makes it Look Easy – Disability in Advertising

When we are truly and inclusive society; Removing the Stumbling Block
I have said, on more than one occasion, that when inclusion is “done right” it just is – there’s no need for fanfare, no reason for an advocate to point it out, no need for celebration.

When we are truly an inclusive society; everyone participates, everyone belongs.

When we are truly an inclusive society we won’t have to share our collective frustrations about schools that exclude a child, faith organizations that exclude families, or television and advertising that exclude people with disabilities.

When we are truly an inclusive society; all will really mean all.

But we aren’t there yet.

What Does Inclusion Mean to You?

Inclusion is opening the doors that would otherwise remain closed; Removing the Stumbling Block

I frequently have opportunities to engage in a conversations about inclusion with my colleagues. Sometimes these conversations are Jewish, sometimes they aren't. Either way, the driving force behind such discussions is one of increasing the ways that individuals with disabilities are included in our schools and communities.

Often, inclusion can become controversial, and it typically stirs up a lot of emotion. It's not the existence or lack of inclusion that gets people fired up, per se. Rather, it's how inclusion itself is defined that causes debate and often, disagreement. That's good; where there is passion there can be change.

So, when asked how I define inclusion, I explain that to me, inclusion is opening the doors that would have otherwise remained closed. I realize that my practice of inclusion is not always about “Inclusion”, the noun with a capital “I”. Rather, my vision is one in which I consistently strive to create inclusive experiences, especially within the Jewish world. I am, quite frankly, less concerned about holding myself, my school or my community to a hard and fast definition of “Inclusion”. Rather, I work to stay true to the belief that everyone is entitled to a Jewish education and that each experience increases the potential of living a meaningful Jewish life.

In a Jewish supplemental school I believe that inclusion should mean offering a wide array of options to meet the needs of every student. Which is exactly what should exist for very student, disabilities or not. Rather than being exclusive, such options can open the doors that might have otherwise remained closed. Too many synagogue schools continue to try to find ways to "fit" students with disabilities into their "typical" school models, often frustrating teachers and alienating students, and in some cases pushing families away.  

“Every member of the people of Israel is obligated to study Torah – whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with physical disability.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, chapter 10).    
Inclusion must offer every child the chance to learn and experience the rich beauty of their heritage in a way that ensures success.    

What does inclusion mean to you?

We Can Do Better

Reflection can lead us to "we can do better"; Removing the Stumbling Block

Thinking about returning conjures images of going back - to what we have done, to what we once knew or to what we may have previously said. 

There are times when this is worthwhile. Memories are powerful, with the ability to ground us in the relationships that make us whole. 

And yet, all too often, we allow ourselves to fall back on what was, what we have always done. Maybe because it's comfortable, easier. “Because we have always done it that way,” can be a dangerous phrase when it is used as an explanation rather than investing the time to do more. We are all guilty of this. We must challenge ourselves to grow. 

When we truly do the hard work of introspection we will be ready for more.  Reflection can lead us from “it’s good enough,” to “we can do better.” 

L'shana tova; Removing the Stumbling BlockAnd we can. We can make the Jewish world a place where everyone is welcome. We can help more of our synagogues to become inclusive. We can build the relationships and shape the programs that reach those we have yet to reach. We can do this. We must do this.

Are you ready?
L’shana tova u’metukah – a good and sweet year to all!

Let Me Give You Some Advice...

I’m in the advice-giving business. 

find partners; Removing the Stumbling Block

Take any of the many hats that I wear and at some point every day I will offer advice. Educator, Jewish professional, Inclusion Specialist, teacher trainer, blog author, supervisor, mentor, parent, friend… each one of these roles has some advice-giving inherently built in.

And lest you read any negativity here, it is not implied. Giving advice often gets a bad rap, but it’s not the advice itself that’s really at issue. At issue is the way the advice is given; the issue is often the advice GIVER. 

Case in point: We run the risk of “becoming the wallpaper” when we are the ONLY voice consistently sharing a specific message. We need partners. Otherwise we help advice get its bad name, as each of us alone could veer too close to nagging, hassling or badgering.

Please don’t misunderstand – I am not suggesting that we stop offering advice or stop sharing our message. Rather, I am suggesting that we need to consistently vary the ways in which that message is delivered. 

A perfect example:

Sometimes all is takes is a simple shift to another point of view. Or maybe it's as simple as using a different modality to amplify your message.  

So let me give you a little advice...

Accommodating Isn't the Same as Inclusion

accommodating isn't inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

Working with students of all different abilities to ensure that they have access to a meaningful Jewish education enables me to revisit my own personal commitment to inclusion over and over again. Over the years I have learned amazing strategies and techniques in adapting curriculum, shaping lessons and accommodating individual students' needs.

But the most significant thing that I have learned is that simply accommodating a student’s needs is not inclusion. Don’t get me wrong, making appropriate accommodations is an essential strategy in working with all students who have unique learning needs. But there’s more to inclusion. 

Let me give you an example:

A class of students is going to break into chevruta (partner groups) to study a Jewish text. A written copy of the text is given to each student. The teacher decides that since this is a discussion-based activity, the text can be read aloud to a student that is blind and she can still fully participate.

What’s wrong with this? 

Put yourself in the scenario. Are you typically the one who says (when something is read aloud), “Let me see that, I missed half of what you said.”?  If so, you are probably a visual learner. (Read more about learning styles.) This is how Braille can function for a student that is blind; it’s her way of “seeing” the text for herself.

accommodating isn't inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block
Here is another example:

Students will be working in groups to explore leadership and community building. The activity relies on students' ability to observe one another as they engage in the task. Adding a listening role to the group for a student who is blind is a reasonable accommodation, but adding that same role to every group is inclusive.

One more:

Making sure there is a chair available for a student who has a physical disability is a reasonable accommodation, but reshaping the activity so that most or even all of the students will sit is inclusive.

Inclusion isn't always easy. Sometimes it takes trial and error. And it takes both intentionality and planning. But as we learn from Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it." (2:16)  

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Making Inclusion Seamless

To feel confident enough in inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

A few years ago I was approached by the parent of a teen from my congregation who wanted her son to get involved in our local region of NFTY (The North American Federation of Temple Youth). We encourage all of our teens to participate in the various events each year, so it should not have really been a question of “could he” but rather just a statement of fact. But her son has autism, and so she was wondering if and how it might work.

As an inclusive congregation we realize that there are other congregations and organizations that are not yet as inclusive as we are, but we typically hope to raise their bar by demonstrating what we do successfully and offering the support necessary to make it happen. We are never certain what the response will be, but we are always optimistic and hopeful.

In this case, I wasn’t really worried. My call was to Pamela Schuller, the Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY-GER, and I knew she would figure out how to make it possible for this young man to join the region. And she did. From hiring one-on-one support to managing medication to adapting programs as necessary, Pam confidently and seamlessly did what was necessary to be sure this teen could be included. So much so that after four years in NFTY-GER, this teen traveled with me and others from our congregation to Atlanta, Georgia this past February for the NFTY National Convention. And Pam made sure that was seamless, too.

This isn’t just one story; it was the same for a student of our congregation with emotional and anxiety issues and one with learning disabilities and so many others. Pam’s philosophy of “Yes, And” is one I share, and it is deeply rooted in the notion that each one of these kids makes our community stronger. It’s never about what has to change for them. It’s always about how their presence will enrich the experience for everyone (knowing that support is always necessary). Pam is an amazing partner and I’ve begun to take it a little bit for granted that all of our kids will be included. And that’s a good thing. To feel confident enough to assume that inclusion will happen is truly a blessing.

About a week ago the following video went viral:

I Am Here, Hear Me Bark: Comedy, Disability and the Inclusive Synagogue

Pam gets it. She truly gets it. The parent of the teen in this story said it perfectly: “Knew she was great and incredible for [my son]. Had no idea how awesome she is period!”

Celebrating ADA and Creating an Inclusive Jewish Community - We Are Not There Yet

Inclusion is the right thing to do; Removing the Stumbling Block

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) thousands of people around the country are both celebrating accomplishments and sharing thoughts about the work that still lies ahead.  The ADA Legacy Project launched the "Because of the ADA I..." campaign, which offers a collection of inspirational quotes and stories only possible because of this groundbreaking legislation. There is absolutely progress to celebrate, but much more work still to be done.

When I conduct professional workshops and trainings for Jewish leaders seeking to become more inclusive, I typically begin by asking them to share their definition of inclusion. (There are fun & catchy ways to do this, and most recently I have been using the prompt define inclusion in three words or less.) The reason for this set-induction is two-fold; first, it focuses participants on the task at hand and second, it helps participants to recognize, up front, that there is no universal definition of inclusion.

You may be wondering why that matters. No universal definition or standard of inclusion means that individual organizations and school districts must figure out for themselves what inclusion means and how it might best be accomplished in their setting. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services and to participate in State and local government programs and services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. Both of these laws prohibit discrimination. Both laws describe appropriate accommodations. But neither actually defines or explains what it means to be inclusive. As a result, there is tremendous variation from state to state and district to district.

It gets even more complicated for us in the Jewish world. As private, religious institutions we are not bound by the ADA or IDEA. There are no legal mandates requiring us to make accommodations for and/or offer inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities and their families. Advocates of an inclusive Jewish world know that the inclusion of Jews of all abilities is the right, moral and just thing to do. We know that we must look past legal mandates and turn, instead, to our own Jewish teachings and sensibilities to guide us to do what is right. But without laws or specific mandates, Jewish leaders find themselves without the proper support and guidance to make inclusion a reality.

How do we start? What do we do? Must we focus on our structures or on our people? How can we seek to bring more people into our community if we can’t accommodate their needs once they are there? Why is it that some people feel inclusion means everyone all together all the time while others prefer a balance of separate and inclusive opportunities? How do we choose what is right and what is really inclusive?

I find myself helping to guide people to an understanding of inclusion by focusing first on what inclusion is NOT. Jewish leaders can begin to make strides toward a more inclusive culture when they avoid common pitfalls and assumptions:

Inclusion is NOT saying that you welcome everyone – plastering it on websites and brochures - and then having meetings, programs or events where the same core group attends and sticks together while others are left outside that “inner circle”.

Inclusion is NOT an event or a program where you invite people with disabilities to share their experiences. (That can be a really meaningful experience for everyone, by the way – it’s just not inclusion in and of itself.)
Inclusion is NOT social action; Removing the Stumbling Block
Inclusion is NOT a favor you do for someone.

Inclusion is NOT a social action project or something your social action committee is “in charge of handling”. Inclusion, when it is part of the culture of a community, offers everyone an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of meaningful experiences.

Inclusion is NOT a place or a person – it’s not a classroom, a quiet room, the inclusion teacher, the inclusion specialist. Inclusion is who we are and what we do. It can’t be an after-thought or a last minute accommodation when someone with a disability “shows up”.

Inclusion is NOT accidentally sending the message to be thankful that you are “whole”. This is the “I’m so lucky I don’t have (fill-in-the-blank)” message. This conveys a message of pity rather than a celebration of the gifts each person has to offer.

In the end, the message is clear: inclusion matters, legal mandates or not. It is incumbent upon each organization to develop an understanding of inclusion and work toward creating a vibrant community that includes and supports everyone.

Stop Using the Word Retarded. Just Stop - Why I'm Angry at John Green's Paper Towns

Stop Using the Word Retarded. Just Stop. via Removing the Stumbling Block

Now that it's officially summer I am doing one of the things that I love to do most, read. A lot. I read all hours of the day, finish books in one sitting, stay up way too late get the idea.

I build my pile of books all winter long and can't wait to make my way through them. I read a variety of books: novels, professional development books and young adult choices along with my kids.

Near the top of my list was Paper Towns by John Green. This is the same author who wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which I loved. So it moved to the top of my list. And I want to say that I liked it, but I can't. Because I just can't get past the fact that Green used the word retarded. Four times.

The first time I read it I flinched, but kept going. I thought about how it really isn't "ok", but didn't put the book down. I should have.

The second time it appeared I felt frustrated, and by the third time, angry. I began to wonder if I just notice this the way pregnant woman notice other pregnant women; you know, that phenomenon where you are highly in tune to something so you tend to notice it more. But that shouldn't matter. That's not a justification.

So there it was the fourth time. And I felt so very disappointed. Now I am left with a bad taste in my mouth and the clear knowledge that I will read nothing else by John Green. Ever. Because it wasn't necessary to use the word retarded. Each time there were most certainly other words he could have used. And the book would have been just as good. Maybe even excellent.

He could have used any number of words to replace retarded in the context of the story: foolish, dumb, ridiculous, useless... And there in lies the problem. Retarded should not be used as a way to describe something negative. Disability should never be derogatory.

Four times. Shame on you, John Green. You have teens reading your work. And four times they read the word retarded and think that it's ok because you wrote it. I mean, it must be ok if this author who is recommended to them by their friends and English teachers uses it, right? Well, it's not ok. Shame on you.

There are a lot more books on my summer pile. And I will read them, voraciously. But I will not recommend Paper Towns to anyone else. And I will loudly explain why.

Stop using the word retarded. Just stop.

***It should be noted that Green has apologized for his use of the word retarded in this book and has stated that he will never use it again in another novel. Good. My concern is still that thousands of teens are reading this book without knowing this piece of the story. And the book is being assigned by high school English teachers across the country, many of whom are not highlighting this issue and are therefore, in my opinion, guilty of perpetuating society's continued use of such slurs.

Can Parallels Be Drawn Between LGBTQ Marriage Equality and the Disability Inclusion Movement?

We still associate disability with “broken” and continue to try to “fix” people with disabilities; Removing the Stumbling Block
Since the news broke about the SCOTUS ruling that all states must legally recognize same-sex marriages, I have found myself feeling wonderfully optimistic. And, of course, as I usually do, I also find myself seeking parallels between this historic moment and the disability inclusion movement.  

There has been a steadily growing tide of momentum over the past two years in the world of disability inclusion, with significant progress in the last five. In fact, in presentations on the topic of inclusion, I taken to saying that the disability inclusion movement is where the LGBTQ movement was about five to eight years ago.

And I believe that.

But when I went looking to draw specific parallels between this ruling and what it might mean for individuals with disabilities, I found myself struggling to find a concrete link. In other words, I can’t say that marriage equality for the LGBTQ community is just like “X” in the disability community. And I think there are more than a few reasons why.

First, I think that the lack of a universal definition of inclusion is itself a genuine barrier. Without it, each state, each school district, each organization interprets for itself what it means to be inclusive and/or offer a least restrictive environment and shapes its practice accordingly. 

Next, as much as there are plenty of committed leaders, advocates, self-advocates and supporters, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same ability to organize and mobilize this movement, possibly because there may not yet be an “X” for everyone to rally behind. Or, quite possibly, there are so many issues to conquer, making overall progress becomes diffuse.

And of course there are the deeper issues of respect and value of humanity at play here. Even as society shifts to recognize and appreciate diversity in some ways, we still associate disability with “broken” and continue to try to “fix” people with disabilities to enable them to conform to accepted notions of normalcy.

And so I took my thoughts to social media and quickly sparked a meaningful dialogue among colleagues. I quickly realized that this is a conversation that needs many more voices!

Here was my post: “For a few months now, when speaking to groups about disability inclusion, I have made reference to the idea that the disability inclusion movement has come a long way recently, and seems to be about where the LGBTQ movement was 5-8 or years ago. With the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality, I find myself wanting to write about the parallels, but could really use some concrete notion or research to anchor my thoughts. What does everyone think? Does it feel like this ruling can also be a win for disability inclusion? Or is there really nothing similar to hang our hats on here?”

And some insight from colleagues:

Renee Laporte: Both [movements] are historically marginalized groups who experience discrimination and hate crimes. The LGBTQ movement is gaining such great ground because they have a HUGE support base, allies and fellow LGBTQ's who work hard at a local community level to educate the masses and gain acceptance. We in the disability community are also taking those steps but when a lot of PWD rely on others for their voice it, in my opinion, makes it harder for them to be heard.”

Torrie Dunlap, CEO of Kids Included Together: “I think the thing the LGBTQIA community has done is rally around ONE message and initiative- marriage equality. There are obviously lots of other ways they are discriminated against, but they chose to focus on one, and get everyone behind it, unifying their message, storytelling, etc. And it took a long time, but ultimately was so effective! What a wonderful win! They can now build on this success to ultimately change public attitudes and opinions. I have often thought that I wish that the disability inclusion community could have something as easy to communicate as marriage equality (or perhaps there is and it hasn't been tried?)”

Brenda Giourmetakis: “If we want to make a difference, we have to get VERY vocal and VERY in the media. The only way we will affect change is by speaking up…And the fact that society does NOT value folks with identified disabilities and is always trying to FIX people instead of working with them.”

Additional food for thought from Disability Thinking: What’s The Next Big Victory for the Disability Community? 

Join the conversation. Comment here or on Facebook. Tweet with the hashtag #BetterTogether. Really. Your voice matters.  

I don’t have the answers. But I know that nothing changes if we don’t start the conversations.

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