. .. I think not having inclusion takes away from community“. Barbara O’Brien. K-1-2 teacher in a multi-age classroom at Beaver Meadow Elementary School in Concord, NH.
You hear this quote as you watch Barbara O’Brien teach a busy and bustling classroom full of diverse learners in the powerful documentary Including Samuel. The camera focuses on a bright eyes-big smile young boy named Samuel. Samuel has cerebral palsy and this documentary (which Samuel’s father directs) explores inclusion, Disability advocacy (think Keith Jones who recently spoke at the University of New Hampshire), mental illness, love, child rearing, and how families navigate being the best parents they can be to both of their children. There is a lot to say about this documentary…there is a lot to learn from it too.
Samuel and Isaiah’s father says:
“Having Samuel forced me to look at my own prejudice. When I saw people who couldn’t walk or talk, what thoughts crept into my head? It’s painful to admit, but I often saw them as less smart, less capable and not worth getting to know. Is that how the world would see Samuel?”.
Including Samuel was recommended to me by Bonnie Poe, Director of Special & Compensatory Education for the BSD.
The educational materials included with Including Samuel touch upon what is perhaps the #1 barrier for discussing any aspect of diversity from ability to race, religion, sexual orientation and beyond.
The educational guide labels it as: “WORDS MATTER”.
In every day life you might hear it as: “politically correct”, “I don’t want to offend anybody”, “I never know what to say”, or “I never know what to say so I just don’t say anything!”.
it is the question of language
The question of what language to use and not use is a constant in the world of diversity and equity. Part of getting to a place of common language is having the tough conversations and being willing to accept that we will all make mistakes, we will all offend someone at some point, and we will also learn and build relationships by going through this process! Now it’s not the prettiest process to go through but it’s a very rewarding one-that I can promise.
“The following are suggestions for using language in a manner that avoids reducing individuals to a series of labels, symptoms or medical terms. This approach is called ‘People First’ language. Note: there is not universal agreement about this topic and language continues to evolve.
|Children with disabilities
||Special needs children
||Able-bodied, normal or healthy
|Person with a disability
Crippled, physically challenged, handicapped
|Person with a learning disability
|Person with multiple sclerosis (MS)
||Person who suffers from MS
|Person who uses a wheelchair
||Wheelchair-bound/confined to a wheelchair
|Stroke survivor/ had a stroke
||Stroke victim/suffered from a stroke
|Person with dyslexia
This chart can be found on page nine of the educational guide that comes with the documentary (which has just been honored with an Emmy nomination for Best Documentary by The Boston/New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences).
I have this image of well-meaning folks carrying around pocket-size charts like the one above and constantly pulling out the appropriate chart based on what person they are talking to… and what happens the day you forget your chart at home?!
Being patient and honest about the fact that we don’t know is 1) O.K & 2) the way that we begin to find language that works and gives room for people to feel that their humanity is respected.
Do you have a story of how you learned what to say and what not to say-and you have lived to tell it?! Often people forget that we all have the ability to survive a tough conversation. Smile. Remember you are a resource too-so please feel free to share!