Isn't it amazing how children have an innocent ability to to be inclusive of people? But maturing seems to bring challenges: Being inclusive of all people brings one conundrum after another. To include one group, some may need to change preconceived notions; to include another group, others may have to leave their comfort zone.
Let’s talk about the most diverse minority group, which also happens to be the largest minority group in the U.S. Orientation, gender, race and religious affiliation have no impact on whether or not you may fall into this group. And this is the most unique aspect: If you aren’t a part of this minority group already, you very likely will be one day before your life comes to end.
This group, if you haven’t figured it out, is people with disabilities — one of the most consistently discriminated and ostracized groups of people throughout human history. People with disabilities are still more often than not sitting on the outside of communities, of movements, and of opportunity. I happen to be fascinated by this group of people — and not just because I am a member of the disability community. Mostly, people with disabilities captivate me because, despite all the negative facts, there may be no other group with more untapped potential.
With all that in mind, I wonder what it would look like to take inclusion and openness to a level beyond accessible toilets and parking spots. First off, I want to highlight how incredibly vital physical accommodations are to tapping into the potential of someone with a physical disability. As I am sure you are aware, disabilities are not just physical in nature. In fact, often they are invisible to the naked eye. Nonetheless, if exclusion of people with disabilities is as basic as lack of physical accommodations, there is quite a long road ahead to making your community open to people with disabilities. Take hope, though: You are far from alone.
Everything I am about to write hinges on the acceptance of the fact that all humans have the natural right to living life to its fullest potential based on their mere existence. If we can agree that humans — no matter their difference — deserve to be treated as humans, then we are off to a great start. Sadly, many in the world still treat people with disabilities as subhuman. No matter how self-confident and successful a person may be, that “subhuman” rhetoric messes with the very core of a person’s identity.
The basis of opening communities and hearts to the inclusion of people with disabilities is choosing to assume the humanity in everyone. To fully include people with disabilities, our conversation needs to change and our focus has to be adjusted. We cannot only make sure our doors are automatic, we need to make sure our hearts automatically embrace the full complexity of people with disabilities. We need to automatically embrace that people with disabilities have dreams, aspirations, loves and hurts that are not exclusive to their differences. Humans are a whole lot more complex than that. Just because I cannot walk very far does not mean my greatest dream is to run a marathon or my greatest grief is the weakness of my muscles. No matter the cognitive, intellectual, physical, vision or hearing difference, we need space within communities filled with compassion, love and humanity allowing us to be the fullness of us — the “full” us God created us to be. Sometimes that fullness of person is in accordance with our disability. We are human, we have hearts that love hard and that desire to be welcomed and embraced.
Matt Curcio is a speaker, writer and advocate. He is very Italian, loves writing, seeks to live like Jesus and is physically disabled. There is a call on Matt's life to be a voice for the voiceless--in his case, that means advocating for those with disabilities. Find more of Matt's writings on his blog.