Embracing Interdependence and Creating Inclusive Communities

From elementary school classrooms to adult care homes, so many of our care structures for disabled people are designed without their participation, often in direct opposition to their stated desires. But why?

When we pose the question of why people with disabilities are excluded from general society, the best answer is often “that’s just how it’s always been.” However, the lived experiences of these individuals, not to mention the research, demonstrate that creating inclusive environments–ones where individuals can make their own choices–would benefit the whole of society.

The problem with segregating people with disabilities

Lauren Schrero Levy, a disability rights advocate and lawyer, was inspired by her daughter to start The Nora Project. The organization reenvisions how kids with disabilities are included in school systems.

As Lauren explains it, until fairly recently, society considered children with intellectual disabilities uneducateable. In the past, these children were not expected or invited to participate in school programs. When the system opened up to them, it offered a fully segregated alternative space that cut them off and partitioned them away. 

Adult institutions are no different. Care homes make minimal efforts to find their residents socially compatible roommates—stemming, sometimes, from a deep-seated assumption that all people with disabilities are the same—or making even the most basic choices for them, like what to have for dinner. 
People with disabilities continue to be segregated not only from the general public but also from the basic rights most of us enjoy, like who to spend time with and what to eat. Today, Lauren helps advocate for adults with disabilities at Equip for Equality, where she seeks to honor the dignity of each of her legal clients.

A misguided parental pursuit of protection

Within the sphere of disability advocacy, there are different sides. Lauren has seen a range of responses from parents of children with disabilities and how these responses sometimes clash with the perspectives of self-advocates.

For example, some parents fight for the very educational segregation Lauren’s nonprofit organization, The Nora Project, is seeking to disassemble through their training of educators and critique of curriculums. This vocal cohort considers the segregated sub-communities in which their children grow up to be the safer alternative, where bullying and other harmful practices can be kept at bay. 

The research doesn’t support their assumptions, however well-meaning or understandable. Instead, it shows that sectioning off children with disabilities actually makes mistreatment easier to achieve; it shows that inclusion with others their own age is beneficial for both kids with disabilities and their non-disabled peers, serving to build welcoming and inclusive communities of care from the earliest interactions.

Lauren’s insights, as she and Alida explore the challenges and promise of inclusive spaces, shed vital light on an often-overlooked societal shortcoming. Lauren is passionate about encouraging everyone, regardless of their lived experience with disability, to study the countless benefits of interdependence and the inherent value every person brings to their community.

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