Growing up in the post war years, a young boy or girl had many opportunities to observe invclusiveness in effect. In the village where I grew up, there were several adults who walked around asking for alms. My mhother always greeted them, welcomed them and made them feel comfortable. She talked and laughed with them shared food with them and gave them something to take away. I noticed that each one seemed to enjoy visiting her. On several occasions she admonished me to treat people with disabilities kindly because they are God's children and the strong should always care for the weak. That inclusive behaviour remained wíth me to this day. On the otherhand, if I were worshipping at church and any one of them walked in, everybody got uneasy because the person was not dressed or groomed for church. I have seen the usher led such a person out of the church. This rejection also stayed with me as I grew up.
When I first learned about inclusiveness, those early examples flooded my mind. The practice of including all types of people and treating them fairly impressed greatly. At my elementary school we were taught to be tolerant and to include all chidren in our play regardless of their disabilities. Our school practised inclusiveness, incuding and containing.
During my work as a teacher I practised providing equal access to my students and the opportunity to work and learn at their own pace. They had access to opportunities to use the little resources that we had. No one was left behind, excluded, or marginalized because of differences or inability to move with the majority.
My view of life has always been centered around developing an inclusive culture. Here are a few ideas to kerp in mind when developing a an inclusive culture:
Assume that everyone is capable of doing a good job if placed in the correct environment.
Provide equal access to opportunities to grow and reach maximum potential.
Always recognize and reward hardwork, special gifts, talents, and abilities.
Encourage all persons to participate in the activity or process which is in progress.
Create a pathway for people who have disabilities, visible or invisible, and feel marginalized to connect.
Hiring employees with disabilities can be good for business.
These ideas can be practised in the workplace where people with disabilities or people who do not look or behave like us can feel welcomed and valued for their contributions. They are given the same opportunities for advancement like their co-workers and they can feel comfortable disclosing and discussing their disabilities. Robert M. Hensel said: "A disability doesn't have to be a social barrier. Good etiquette begins with inclusiveness not exclusiveness." James Emmet also reminds us that" creating a culture of inclusiveness takes time, effort, and planning." What Emmet is saying that we should always be improving the terms under which individuals and groups take part in society by improving opportunity, dignity and ability to participate.
In the British Virgin Islands we have made some progress in attempting to create an inclusive culture but my brothers and sisters we have only scratched the surface as a Territory. Too many people are suffering from discriminations of various types. The government, the church, NGO's, together with the public are all culpable.
If you don't know where to begin follow Jesus's example. In John 10: 9 you will find where he says"I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture." The apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians and us " For through him(Jesus) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit."
Finally, Jesus told us to
"Love thy neighbour as thyself." (Mark 12:31).
- Dr. Charles H. Wheatley