Changing the Situation, Not the Person

Set someone up for success
How do you include a person with differences and challenges in a setting or situation that's not geared to people with differences and challenges?

All too often, the answer provided is either (1) create a separate setting or situation in which "those" people can be "comfortable" or (2) teach the people to handle a difficult setting or set of expectations.

All too rarely, there is consideration of the possibility that, with just a few minor changes, the setting and its expectations can be changed to accommodate people, rather than vice versa.  Even when those changes cost nothing except an hour, a few minutes, or even a few seconds -- and nothing more.

Just a few examples should get this idea across.

An adult with special needs -- who happens to have a wonderful singing voice -- would like to be included in a community chorus.  But all the chorus members read music -- a skill that is outside the abilities of the person with special needs.  The choral director can just say no, or suggest that the person join a "special" chorus.  Or he can spend an extra 45 seconds pushing the button on a recorder and record the music so that individual with special needs can learn it, not by reading, but by ear. 

A child with special needs wants to become a part of a swim team -- and is a terrific swimmer -- but has a very hard time processing spoken or shouted instructions.  The coach can just say no, or suggest that the person join a "special" team.  Or he can spend an extra few minutes before each meet explaining what will happen and providing a written list of instructions.

A teen with special needs would like to be confirmed in his church, but cannot sit still for more than a few minutes without needing to get up and move.  The clergy person can just say no, or suggest that the teen take part in a "special" confirmation.  Or he can spend an hour with the family and teen, modifying the service so that short breaks are built in.

None of these changes are difficult or complex.  None require an extra nickel.  None require more than an hour of extra time.  None require great concessions or sacrifices on the part of a "typical" community. 

Why are such changes, then, so rare?

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Lisa Jo Rudy

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