This past week in Israel, we recognized National Awareness Day for people with disabilities.
Also this week, a survey was published in a leading newspaper that had asked parents whether they would mind if a kid with a disability would take part in an activity with their child. The answers were the following: 11% said they wouldn’t care; 28% said they would mind if the kid has a physical disability; 27% said they would mind if the kid has an intellectual disability and the other 34% said any disability would be a problem for them.
Yes, you read right!
This Survey was taken by the Israel Association of Community Centers. I don’t necessarily trust every survey I read but still, even if the numbers are a little off, only 11% don’t mind their child will be in a program with a kid with disability!
I do not regard physical disability and intellectual disability as one thing. The differences between them are huge and putting them under the same umbrella and calling it “People with Disabilities” is just too conclusive. The issue I would like to focus on is the attitude towards people with intellectual disabilities or as we often tend to name it–people with special needs.
Sadly, these statistics don’t surprise me at all: while interviewing young people applying to be counselors in summer camps in the US, I hear many concerns regarding dealing with kids with special needs. Just last week someone told me “if I had a group of campers and one of them had special needs that distracted the group, I would move him away so the other campers would enjoy their time.” When asking him about the rationale of his above solution, he talked about caring after his other campers. I wondered about all the benefits and the positive lesson that these campers could get if that one ”different” camper had stayed as part of the group. And, not less important, what about the feelings and self-image of that “expelled” camper?
Unfortunately, for many people, young and old, the disability world is still an enigma. Not being exposed and/or educated (introduced) to this world may cause fears, prejudice and inappropriate behaviors. The main problem is still awareness.
I personally feel that awareness can be raised mainly by inclusion. Articles, amazing stories, movies and videos (see Shalva in “The Next Big Star”) may have an impact on public perception, but actual inclusion is more than an anecdote. It is a powerful educational tool.
As I wrote here in the past, I was blessed to be part of two different special needs programs at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. In these programs, I have worked with kids with special needs and saw different types of inclusion. It works! My conclusion is that we need to do it more.
Inclusion can be done in different ways as I’ve witnessed at camp (this idea relates to inclusion at school and other community settings). One is individual inclusion: not every camper with special needs should automatically be placed in a special group. He or she might just need extra support in order to keep up with the others. This support must be professional–inclusion without supervision can back fire easily. Other kids may develop antagonism towards this camper. When doing it right, the victory is not only for the included kid but for the entire group. They learn about same but different, they develop empathy and understand the values of team work.
The other type of inclusion is partial inclusion. When full inclusion is not possible for a variety of reasons, the camper may be integrated into an activity or activities where he or she will be more prone to success and positive experience. Finding the right “match” is crucial here for the individual camper and the group.
At Camp Ramah in the Poconos, I have witnessed both types of inclusion successfully taking place. The beauty is that these programs don’t only influence other campers but also make an impact on staff members of all ages. Just by being part of a community that practices inclusion teaches the members, young and old, to better understand, accept and often show love, to those campers with special needs.
We live at a time where awareness is growing. More than ever doors are being opened for people with disabilities and our job is to make sure every door stays open widely.
Maybe I am repeating the obvious. But I have noticed that inclusion is not necessarily something that the regular “man on the street” is familiar with. My own positive experience brings me to the point where I have the urge to write about it in order that hopefully, with the right education, National Awareness Day will not be needed anymore!
Oz Isseroff studies law and social work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.