It has been a tough week in this community as a Christian, former pediatric physical therapist, and mom of a child with disabilities. People with disabilities and caregivers of people with disabilities have been discouraged to see efforts made by companies to be more inclusive in both their product lines and advertising ridiculed for these efforts. They've seen prominent celebrities and political commentators claim to desire education around the issue of inclusivity only to have their words twisted, their mental health questioned, and their valid concerns dismissed...
...despite these disheartening events, this community also witnessed those with open minds and open hearts learn more about inclusivity and adaptive clothing. They saw new voices being highlighted on social media platforms. They saw conversations sparked and change inspired. It appears that the efforts made to educate were not in vain, and that always deserves to be celebrated.
I realize the tone and wording of this piece may be a bit different than some of my other blog posts. At times, I feel it is necessary to pull in my "research mind." My experience as a DPT (particularly as one who worked in the world of developmental pediatrics prior to becoming a full time caregiver for my kids) places me in a unique position to speak on this issue of inclusivity through both a personal and professional lens. In an effort to continue meeting the need for education regarding inclusivity and representation, we need to establish what inclusivity is, what it is not, and the effects of exclusion on people living with disabilities.
*Note: Misunderstandings of inclusivity that are discussed are directly pulled from a prominent political commentator's public opinions on this subject.
What is Inclusion/Inclusivity?
By definition, inclusion is "being included within a group" or the "practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or intellectual disabilities, and members of minority groups" (Oxford Languages Dictionary).
Inclusivity is about resources, opportunity, and community. It isn't about unrealistic expectations or desiring to change things outside of our control. It isn't about "needing to see ourselves in an underwear campaign to know we can wear underwear." People with disabilities know they can wear underwear...they just don and doff it differently than able bodied people and benefit from product designs that consider these differences (aka adaptive clothing). Inclusivity is not about expecting to be called to "compete in the NBA," but rather it's about opportunities like the Paralympic games in which over 4500 athletes with disabilities representing 123 different countries are able to compete in the sport in which they have trained...all because a neurologist in 1948 saw a need for encouragement and inclusivity. As part of their rehabilitation program, he encouraged wheelchair using British WWII veterans with spinal cord injuries to compete in sports during their rehabilitation. He chose not to define them or limit them based on their disabilities, but instead chose to see them as human beings and gave them an opportunity that fit their desires and needs.
"...until then, the problem was hopeless, because we had not only to save the life of these paraplegic or quadriplegic men, women and children but also give them back their dignity and make them happy and respected citizens." - Sir Ludwig Guttman ( Source: the significance of Sport in the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, International Congress, 1956)
"Representation is the ability to engage in activities and events, to have choices and options, to engage with the public without barrier." @tremblav123, Instagram
Inclusivity is about helping people feel seen and heard. Did you know that approximately 25% of the United States adult population has a disability of some kind? Did you know that approximately 17% of children in the United States have at least one developmental disability? Of the adults in the United States who have disabilities, approximately 17 million were reported in 2018 to experience frequent mental distress. These adults are 5 times more likely to experience mental distress than an able bodied adult. This mental distress is often related, though not limited to, poor access to healthcare, societal stigmas, and the challenges that come with their limitations. Given the negative mental and emotional impact societal exclusion has on people with disabilities, it is more than reasonable to conclude that inclusion is the best path forward in maximizing the health and quality of life of these individuals. Inclusivity involves recognizing the previously mentioned factors, understanding the limitations people with disabilities face, and considering these things in optimizing their ability to participate in society to the absolute best of their unique abilities.
"Twelve years ago, there weren't books about babies like mine (not kids' books anyway). Eleven years ago, there were no store brand adaptive clothes for tubies. I cut slits in fleece sleepers. Watching the world change to offer things for kids like mine over the last decade has felt like a hard won fight. Just one more in a world where all I do is fight...for doctors to listen, for good care, for access to education and playgrounds and things other kids just do or have. I worry constantly about them becoming adults in a world where they will have to fight to exist. It SHOULD be a blessing that they make it to adulthood...not just another concern." @pixie.power, Instagram
"...I'm a model and now currently disabled artist and model ...people who have become recently disabled take a huge blow to their confidence in their bodies and in themselves. I strongly feel this very vulnerable majority desperately NEEDS representation in the media ...I never understood their pain and feelings of isolation until I ended up in a wheelchair, too." @RosasReaction, YouTube
I also notice when no one asks about him...if I talk about what is going on in his life...and it makes you uncomfortable, well, this is our life." @ksspaan, Instagram
Inclusivity is not about idolizing ourselves or the people representing us/our loved ones. It is about appreciating the many ways in which God made us all uniquely beautiful. The idea that exclusion from advertising campaigns alone is what is contributing to a "lack of spirituality" or the poor mental health that many people with disabilities face can only be labeled as an intentionally obtuse opinion in order to avoid taking responsibility for purposeful exclusion. Exclusion from advertising, social media, television, and other areas of entertainment is simply a compounding factor to the relentless ideology that people with disabilities are somehow "lesser than" members of society. It is an ideology that has been present for millennia and is deeply rooted in much of our culture. However, for those of who call ourselves Christians, our faith, our spirituality, and our belief in Jesus Christ should have us respond with disgust to the idea that those with disabilities are beneath other citizens of the world. This idea is one that completely contradicts the values that we are called to demonstrate as beings in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Intentional exclusion of people with disabilities, feelings of disgust upon their inclusion, bullying, gaslighting, and purposeful avoidance of education on their experiences are all behaviors rooted in hate. Inclusivity is about recognizing that God knitted all of us together (Psalm 139:13-14), that the Body of Christ is formed by people of all abilities and backgrounds (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and that refusing to include those with disabilities makes us guilty of the sin of partiality (James 2:1-13).
A Christian Call to Action
- What is Ableism? Ableism, which is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people, reduces people to their disability, and treats those with disabilities as "less than" members of society. Ableism can be presented in many ways, including but not limited to refusing to provide reasonable accessibility and accommodations for people with disabilities. The following blog post is an excellent resource in breaking down the varying ways in which ableism may be seen in our society.
- CDC Disability Inclusion Article: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability-inclusion.html#:~:text=Disability%20inclusion%20allows%20for%20people,do%20not%20have%20a%20disability.
- Is disability exclusion associated with psychological distress? Australian evidence from a national cross-sectional survey
Is disability exclusion associated with psychological distress? Australian evidence from a national cross-sectional survey
- Scriptures Regarding Love, Inclusion, and Anti-Discrimination
- Matthew 20:28
- Ephesians 2:14
- Galatians 3:28
- Revelation 5:9
- Acts 10:34
- Psalm 139:13-14
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
- James 2:1-13
- Philippians 2:3
- Matthew 19:13-15
- Mark 2:13-17
- Mark 5:25-34