Why is Inclusion Important?
Consider this …
Everybody has personal characteristics. M is a child who likes to swim. J is a child who likes to play basketball and has epilepsy. We are all different. Some of us wear eyeglasses to help us see. Some people are short and others are tall. We all look different and learn differently. And that is why inclusion is so important. We all have something to offer that makes us unique and special and we can all learn from each other. It’s a wonderful mindset to embrace, because it allows everyone to be recognized for their accomplishments and abilities, not their limitations.
Inclusion: What Is It?
Inclusion is a natural state where everyone can participate and belong, feel, accepted, respected and valued in age-appropriate settings, in their communities, with all necessary supports and services. In our JCC community, we are committed to inclusion and believe that it is not a right to be earned; it is a natural state that should always exist in all settings.
- Providing the same choices and opportunities for all regardless
- Being accepted and appreciated as a unique individual, including strengths and weaknesses
- Being friends with someone who shares your interests
- Being a valued customer and welcomed participant in our JCC community
- A facility that is flexible and accessible and easy to use by everyone
- Providing the necessary supports, adaptations, and accommodations, so every person can equally benefit from experiences with friends
Inclusion is a Process
Inclusion is a process where we discover our similarities, rather than our differences, focusing on strengths and not weaknesses. It is a way of life, where we think about the future of our community members, young and old. It is a set of values and beliefs that are supported and embraced by families, friends and professionals in all settings.
Inclusion: The Natural State
Inclusion is the natural state, not a “right” or privilege that must be earned, and at its core, it is more about interdependence than independence. When we think about interdependence, we should recognize the importance of relationships and friendships, reciprocity and inclusion in all areas of life. As the saying goes: “It takes a village…”
Creating a Culture for Inclusion at our JCC:
Planting the Seeds for Inclusion:
- We all have the right to participate in the same community activities and programs in a natural setting with appropriate supports
- We each bring our own unique gifts and talents to the community
- We should honor and encourage risk-taking
- We support everyone’s participation in all aspects of community life
Making Inclusion a Part of our Culture Here at the JCC is Easy and Benefits Others:
Here are some ways the culture of inclusion and inclusive friendship-building is supported at our JCC:
- Let Kids be Kids: The JCC offers many children’s programs, camps and activities that allow “kids to be kids” by providing the supports children need to be successful in all activities. Sometimes this support comes from an additional staff person, sometimes it is extra time, sometimes it is adapted equipment, and sometimes it comes from having a “buddy.”
- Give It Extra Time: Understanding that response times vary from person to person, we look to support successful transitions into different activities by creating special time before or after programs, classes, and events. We always plan ahead and are prepared to maximize time and opportunity to allow for successful inclusion.
- Model Inclusive Behavior: At our JCC, we all strive to learn as much as we can about our community members and our program participants. We encourage positive interactions. Our staff wears name tags and our members often wear their JCC membership card on a lanyard that helps us put “a name to a face”. We always use “People First” language and focus on the person first and their personal characteristics second.
- Providing Opportunities and Choices through our Extensive Programming: All programming here at the JCC is open and accessible to all. Our building is wheelchair accessible and designed to meet the needs of our program participants. Through our membership and registration process, we meet with everyone who enters our building and take the time to learn about what makes them unique, what their interests are, and what, if any supports they need to successfully participate in our programming. This can include anything from an infrared hearing device to enjoying a concert to screening films with captions or providing signage in Braille.
- Plan Activities with a Purpose: Our JCC programming is intentionally designed to meet the needs of our community from our youngest to our oldest members, and many have been developed in response to the interests and ideas of our community members. The goal for all is to facilitate personal growth, belonging, friendship and meaning. We are flexible and willing to modify, accommodate and adapt to ensure that we are truly inclusive.
Most Importantly, Be Kind and Gentle to Each Other
The End is the Beginning: As a Jewish Community Center, we are committed to the notion “YOU BELONG HERE” and our “END” is working to ensure that we are all welcomed, respected and accepted here. The final quotes reflect our commitment to inclusion:
“We’re all the same and we’re all different. Treat others how you want to be treated and you’ll be doing your part to make a better place for all!” Kathie Snow, Disabilities are Natural
“Our Jewish Community is only as strong as its ability to include and honor people with an array of diverse strengths and abilities.” Matankids.org
By embracing Inclusion as a way of life, we enable all of our JCC community members, young and old, to reach their fullest potential.
Written by Shelley Levy, Director, Guttenberg Center for Special Services. Shelly has over thirty years of professional experience working with children, teens and adults with special needs.