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The Dream of Inclusion (Part 2)

A dream doesn’t have to be perfect to be believed.  What I mean is our lack of understanding of what is required to successfully implement inclusion, does not preclude us from believing it is possible.

The dream of inclusion is a positive and hopeful social vision.  Its’ aim is a community where people are valued for their humanity, not merely their ability.

Excluding people with disabilities from society places them in grave danger of being dehumanized.   Once a group of people are dehumanized it is easy for them to be oppressed, abused, and forgotten.

I am unaware of anyone who has provided a full proof plan for inclusion of every individual in any and all situations.   There are groups that are experiencing success in varying degrees, and each step they take forward advances society as a whole (Syracuse University is a great example).

Something I have learned is that a full proof plan is not necessary – it isn’t the first step.  Before we become preoccupied with developing plans for inclusion, we should understand and embrace the importance of hope.

Hope is what lead me to believe inclusion was possible in our E-Soccer program.  Every weekend at multiple sites throughout the Bay Area special needs and typical kids play soccer together.   Parents of typical children embrace the parents of special needs families.   We have built an inclusive community where every child feels valued.  It has taken hard work, training, and concrete efforts to build a unique culture of acceptance.  Former Congressman Tom Lantos found the program to be worthy of these words (Watch Video Here):

Madam Speaker, I wish to recognize the achievements of a very special man within my home district in California. Russell Ewell, who has recently been honored with a Jefferson Award, is much deserving of the accolade, which spotlights outstanding public service.

Mr. Ewell brought the community E-Soccer, a unique athletic outreach program affiliated with the Hope Technology School, where his wife is the Executive Director. The unqualified success of E-Soccer in bringing together typical and special needs children of all ages on a soccer field is a testament to Russ Ewell’s visionary concept.

Let me explain how I arrived at this hopeful and I think visionary place.

The November 21, 1994 issue of Forbes Magazine carried an article by Peter Huber on page 210. This article changed my view of intellectual limits.   It made me realize that as a father of children with intellectual disabilities I should look to technology as a leveler.  It gave me hope.

Mr. Huber titled his article “Silicon On The Bell Curve” and those words written so many years ago remain compelling and visionary.

The gap-widening argument is simple. Intelligence matters; in the age of information it matters more. It takes intelligence to use intelligence. Smart machines multiply whatever you’ve got — they effectively double your IQ, say. So the gap between smart and dumb gets wider.

But the bell curve thesis leaves unanswered this question: Why exactly should machine intelligence make small differences in human intelligence more important, not less? Maybe it will be the other way around:  Maybe machines will make variations in human intelligence less important, not more so.

The advent of bulldozers certainly made it less important to be big and strong. Crane operators don’t have to be extremely tall; the crane supplies the height. No country that owns a surface-to-air missile is likely to worry about how many powerfully muscled javelin throwers it can muster. The technology that overcomes a human limit usually doesn’t amplify human differences. It’s more likely to even things out.

I understood then and now that he was talking about small differences in intelligence, but my focus was on the ability of technology to even things out.  My focus was on nurturing hope for my children’s future.

I was living in the middle of Silicon Valley at the time and I became a strong believer in the magical possibilities of technology.   I embraced this statement by Arthur C. Clarke (Profiles of the Future, 1961):

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This hope provided by technology helped me see everything differently, and it wasn’t long before I came to understand that empathy was the other necessary ingredient for an inclusive future.  I began to dream of communities where my kids could be included.   I had two reasons to keep that hope alive.

  1. Technology:  helping those with disabilities overcome human limits
  2. Empathy:  helping typical children and adults embrace those limits

In my next installment, I will talk more about inclusion, technology, and empathy as well as the future they can make possible.