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Inclusion versus Exclusion – The Community Impact on Disability

In the spirit of inclusion, an entire Turkish neighbourhood secretly learned sign language to surprise a deaf neighbour.  If you haven’t already seen the viral video, check it out.  Muaharrem, the young deaf man featured in the video, comes from Istanbul.  His sister teamed up with Samsung to create a day of community inclusiveness by teaching sign language to their neighbours.

Muaharrem’s tearful reaction is a reminder of how normal community exclusion can be for people living with disabilities.  That it hurts, even when it’s unintentional.  The video shows how wonderful and happy it makes people to be included and be part of a strong community.  And I’m not just talking about Muaharrem, his neighbours had fun doing this and it shows 😀  As working in the disability field changed my perspective on inclusion, I have no doubt that the month learning sign language and getting to know Muaharrem’s perspective on life changed the video participants.

Unfortunately there are still many exclusive communities creating stories like baby Leo’s.

Leo was born January 21st, 2015 in Armenia with Down’s Syndrome.  Currently he’s at the heart of a very complicated controversy exposing the extreme non-inclusive attitude in Armenian society towards those living with disabilities.  His mother has been accused of abandoning him due to disability prejudice.  His father is taking him to be raised in New Zealand.  His parents are divorcing.  It’s an ugly, sad situation for a newborn baby to be in.

I spent hours in an emotional roller coaster as I read article after article about Leo’s parents; what he said, what she said, and eventually gave up trying to get a balanced perspective.  What I did get was a far better understanding of Armenian attitudes towards disability.

According to Hopscotch Adoptions Inc., the community has a significant influence on an Armenian families ability and willingness to parent a disabled child.  There are very few government supports and limited protection under the law for people with disabilities.  Marriages in Armenian society are often arranged.  In a culture that perceives disability as evidence of genetic weakness, all children in the family will be viewed under the same umbrella of prejudice.  Keeping a child with a disability can prevent other children in the family from marrying and starting families.  The child with the disability will likely never leave home and be ostracized.  Religion plays a role as disability is seen by some as divine retribution for, or evidence of sin.  Even if a mother chooses to keep a child with a disability, she is typically dependent on her husband.  Leaving her and the child vulnerable to poverty should the father chose to bow out.  Many mothers believe that the best future for their children is through adoption by wealthy western families.

Leo’s mother summed up this attitude on her Facebook wall, “I faced two options: to take care of the child on my own in Armenia, or to abandon my maternal instincts and extend the baby an opportunity to enjoy a decent life with his father in New Zealand.  I went for the second option.”

Leo’s story does have an inclusive seed.  Over $500+ has been donated to Leo on his GoFundMe page to pay for travel expenses to New Zealand.  Overwhelmed by the global community’s support Leo’s father has stated that a portion will go towards helping Armenian children living with disabilities.  Although Leo’s local community may not have rallied around him, the international one has.  Which says wonderful things about how attitudes towards disability are changing around the globe.

 

 


Inclusion Blog Post

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  1. Schools spend time on sex ed and home ec type classes, why not a similarly mandatory class where you learn sign language, type braille, learn how to use a wheel chair, spend the week on crutches, and eat your lunch with one hand?

    The community learning sign language reminds me of an experience I had as a kid, watching a pair of deaf classmates duck in and out of shops on either side of a noisy street from each other carrying on what looked like an exciting conversation the whole time separated by 200 meters and loud traffic. I felt left out and thought that was a useful tool to anyone to know. “what!?” “I can’t hear you” “what!?”. Sign it. Problem solved.

    Many of these accessibility skills could be taught by showing their advantages to everyone. It could become a natural part of our society like spoken English is. Braille on car dashes and similar interfaces could make things safer, finding the right radio button or heat control without looking away from the road, while making it a normal reading/writing skill for everyone and exposing everyone to the challenges. Then people will be able to identify (and hopefully prefer) manufacturers that do it well. And controlling cellphones by voice? I do that all the time, and prefer manufacturers that have a good voice interface.

    I’d love to have Braille bumps on my keyboard keys. Looking away from my monitor to find a dash on an unfamiliar keyboard is less efficient.

    • Interesting idea Chris! Braille bumps on car dashboards would be awesome. Be great to not have to take my eyes of the road when in someone else’s vehicle to find stuff.