One of the findings from a study of an inclusive youth summit was that inclusion should be a choice. A group of young people with and without disability were brought together to explore art and social justice. Group behaviours were observed and documented in an honours thesis. There are some good take-away messages from this event.
The thesis is by Megan Price, who is a youth coordinator. She describes the context, the participants and behaviours and the story of the event. The implications from her observations were:
- Neurotypical young people needed one to one leadership to understand and practice inclusion
- The ableist model in the outside world perpetuates excluding behaviour
- Inclusion needs to be a choice, not forced – you have to want to be included.
- Building trust and confidence to see how identities overlapped
- Being open and honest with group members and treating them as people
Megan Price comments in the concluding remarks:
“I feel that a properly done inclusive program should be rooted in something that isn’t disability focused. It can be video games, it can be social justice, it can be education or art, it can be literally anything else. But when we make the target group the group’s focus, we’re already offsetting power and inputting a dynamic. Inclusive groups can’t get rid of power imbalances that their larger society has created but they can
acknowledge them and work to counteract their effects within the group. “
There is much to gain from reading this thesis as it brings the topic to a grass roots level and out of an academic focus.
The title of the thesis is, “What Makes Inclusion Work: An Autoethnography on Coordinating an Inclusive Youth Advocacy Program”.
Abstract: In this autoethnographic thesis, I analyze my observations as the co-coordinator of an inclusive youth advocacy program (YAP) to detail what made inclusion successful, and what was ineffective. I had the unique position of facilitating conversations and workshops around social justice issues and how to advocate using self-expression and art. In this thesis, I will reflect on the Inclusive Education Conference (IEC) in Spring of 2019, and the Summer Summit in the summer of 2019, both in Portland, Oregon. At the IEC some of the observations noted as harmful to inclusion included: people wanting to silence the youth, inclusion being coerced, neurotypical youth segregating due to lack of support, youth creating a hierarchy based on disabilities, and inability to support youth due to lack of knowledge.
The biggest takeaway was the importance of intersectionality. The observations around detrimental practices led to changes for the summer summit. Changes included: having more understanding of workshop, interview the youth to determine their motivation for being involved and their goals, schedule breaks to encourage socialization outside the workshops which led to more inclusive workshops, and being transparent with the youth so they felt comfortable to express themselves and make mistakes. Ultimately, the most damaging elements to the inclusive youth program were 1) When neurotypical youth are neglected due to the focus on inclusion. 2) when the outside world is still modeling ableist behavior. 3) when inclusion isn’t a choice. The key finds that made inclusion most successful for this program were 1) the focus on intersectionality. And 2) being transparent and open with the youth. I also strongly encourage inclusive youth programs to not be rooted in disability as it already offsets the power dynamic of the group: rather have the group focus on a common interest.