Is Inclusion an Unreasonable Ideal?

In some circles, the idea of full inclusion for all, in all situations, is seen as an ideal.  It's easy to see why this is the case: the concept of equal access is extremely democratic.  When applied to concepts such as suffrage or civil rights, it's hard to argue with such an ideal.

But once you dig down even a little bit, the idea of full inclusion for all becomes much trickier.

Should "all" children be granted the right to play on elite ball teams? 

Should "all" teens be admitted to highly competitive universities?

Should cultural organizations such as museums be required to make their programs and exhibits intellectually accessible to "all," even to people who, for example, have disruptive behaviors or who lack the cognitive ability to grasp complex abstract ideas?

Most public organizations are more than willing to provide "separate but equal" opportunities for intellectually or developmentally challenged people to take part in their offerings.  Little League runs a special Challenger program for just that purpose, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art runs a Discovery program for a similar group.

There's no question in anyone's mind, however, that these separate offerings do not represent full inclusion.  After all, when a group of people is segregated from the mainstream, they are -- by definition -- NOT included.

Clearly, full inclusion of people with developmental and/or cognitive challenges requires compromise at some level.  Either the people being included have a second-rate experience, or the experience is changed in some basic ways to make a first rate experience possible. 

As soon as the experience is changed to meet the needs of those with developmental and/or cognitive challenges, there will be some who feel that the experience has been dumbed down, oversimplified, or otherwise lessened in value.

I can easily understand both perspectives in this particular debate. 

While full inclusion is, no doubt, an ideal, it seems that it is not always meaningful, comfortable, or even appropriate -- either for the general public or for the disabled community.  But once you agree that there are circumstances in which full inclusion may not be a good fit, you start down a slippery slope.  Is there ANY general community setting in which full inclusion is the right fit?

This important issue is not easy to resolve, and I can't offer a simple resolution. 

From a practical perspective, there will always be organizations and situations that are unable to accommodate individuals who don't "fit."  Yet that reality makes no difference when it comes to physical barriers: even Harvard and the Guggenheim are required to provide elevators, braille, and accommodations for the hard of hearing and deaf community.  How -- if at all -- can that requirement be expanded to those with autism or related disorders?

Your thoughts are welcome!


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Lisa Jo Rudy

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