Policy stuff frustrates the mess out of me. I’ve determined that it’s because policy tends to manifest itself to me as useless bullcrap. Or worse, a cop-out for the government to be a jerk (although that’s another post altogether). In my experience, where policy is naught, life is a lot easier. I’m sure that’s not a safe generalization, but by the end of this post you’ll see why I make it.
I hate it when bureaucracies create policies regarding disability and see it as the end result. The win. Game over. Move along. Nothing to see here. Policy hardly changes anything immediately (if ever). I know of brand new or recently renovated buildings that still manage to completely blow getting ADA regulations right (do bathrooms with ADA-required turning space even exist?). Without the architect (seriously, it should start there) having the proper attitude, the ADA guidelines for accessible buildings are just useless stacks of paper in a dusty filing cabinet.
In short, attitude transcends policy.
People do what they want to do. Especially when it comes to rules (of any kind). Architects design buildings how they want to. Schools include kids with disabilities as much as they want to. “Equal opportunity employers” hire people with disabilities if they feel like it. The rules are just there. They are more like suggestions. And at that, they are really only the minimally accepted suggestions. But what happens when policy is put aside and people have the attitude of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do? As it happens, I can tell you because I experienced it.
That’s right. Unlike a lot of my disabled friends, I had a pretty good high school experience. My public school education was okay until middle school. During my sixth grade year, despite being around more people, I felt more isolated than I had ever felt up to that point in my life. One the only friends I had was a janitor at the school, because he was the only staff member willing to help me use the restroom (which, let’s face it, policy probably forbade). My grades dropped and my Mom said she didn’t care if we ate canned soup for every meal if that’s what it took to send me to a private school.
The stereotype is probably that the public school’s poor quality was related to the fact that it was under-funded. That’s true to an extent but it might give way to the somewhat liberal policy of catapulting money in the general direction of the school grounds in order to fix its problems. Money helps, but it doesn’t fix attitude problems. The private school I went to was, coincidentally, even more under-funded than the public school I went to.[1. I assume since I know many of the teachers didn't get paid what they should have and that decreasing revenue eventually led to the school's closing.]
But oh how the attitudes were different. Almost every teacher I had was willing to help me use the restroom. The staff helped me whenever I needed it, but didn’t gloat or make a show of it. They treated me like any other student. They were also flexible. Since the school was K-12 they had an after-school program. They let me stay there until my Mom got off from work. Despite the fact that the school was unaccredited for some time and that they occasionally had unorthodox methods of teaching[2. In American History, we used The Complete Idiot's Guide to American History for our textbook.], I got a better education than public school would have given me. Was it because the school was top-dollar, top-notch, and super qualified? Hardly. It was because the people who worked there cared.
Inclusion should just happen. I think people who work with people with disabilities should aim for “radical” inclusion. Don’t settle. Don’t be “by the book” all the time. Be human. Try to think about what a person with a disability is going through. When a kid has to pee and his only options are holding it in pain, pissing himself, or you taking him, try being a little radical. It might not be your job to do such a thing but you try telling the kid that.
Seriously. Those folks at my middle school were freaked out by me. I’m just lucky the janitor was a human being who understood how the urinary system works. Axiom number one: what goes in must come out. I’m sure taking me to the restroom was nowhere in the vicinity of his job description. I’m not saying it should have been. I’m not advocating for policy that requires teachers, counselors, etc. to assist people with disabilities in the restroom (what an awesome, controversial policy that would be!). I’m just saying that the more people who give a damn, regardless of bureaucratic rules, the better life will be for everyone. Policy is only the beginning.
Inclusion shouldn’t be an initiative, program or effort, it should just happen. If it just happened we wouldn’t even need a word to point out that everyone is included equally.
Danny Housley, Automatic Inclusion
Inclusion is attitude, not policy.