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What does inclusion mean to you?

10 March 2020

By Gayathri Eknath

What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear ‘inclusion’? How about when you hear ‘diversity’, ‘disability’, ‘mental health’, ‘gender’ and ‘access’? How do you feel about ‘LGBTQ+’? These are the questions that I think lie at the heart of understanding how we can create a truly inclusive environment.

Food for thought: when you find out about a person’s underlying disability, do you sympathise or empathise? Showing sympathy usually involves feeling concerned for the person whereas showing empathy suggests you are truly viewing the world from that person’s standpoint and can identify with their views. Could we then take this one step further by adding compassion and acceptance into our inclusion recipe?

A challenging boundary arises from people’s expectations of what makes someone different. For example, are we more accepting of the fact that someone struggling with dementia or schizophrenia requires mental health maintenance rather than someone with mild anxiety? What about someone whose mental health is at its peak – should they not be required to maintain their mental health? Biases like these, by design, don’t allow for much inclusivity. This suggests that to be truly inclusive, we need a better design.

On international women’s day 2020, the United Nations published an excellent graphic of what they visualise the first country to have achieved gender equality would look like. Welcome to Equiterra! The graphic depicts a country with unconditional acceptance, appreciation for diversity and an infrastructure which would eradicate discrimination.

A visualisation of Equiterra – the first country to have achieved gender equality. Photo credit: UN Women/Ruby Taylor

We may be a long way away from living in a place like Equiterra but perhaps it’s time to make a head start on some small, powerful changes. You may wonder where do we even begin. How about by reducing the use of adjectives, describing those who are differently abled, in a negative context? I’m talking about those adjectives that creep into our daily conversations: “that idea seemed DUMB”, “my job is so LAME”. How about paying more attention to remove negative connotations to words like “crazy” or “insane” which are associated with serious mental health deterioration? Could we be showing compassion by allowing participants of a competition to compete with their former self/abilities instead of pinning them against one another? Could we be taking the initiative to publish more articles in Braille? Could we be running local events in sign language to integrate it further into the multitude of languages spoken worldwide?

We are so engrossed in our daily habits, jobs, routines, events, that perhaps we forget that it’s time to do some thinking about others who are dissimilar to us. We need to start having more faith in the notion that everyone is good at something. Let’s collect our individual quirks and bring them together to build a beautifully inclusive world.