Inclusive Equality is a mindset that advocates for (1) everyone to respect each other’s needs, opinions and aspirations as equally important as their own, (2) with each person taking personal responsibility to create positive change (3) through making meaningful contributions strategically given their personal situation and then (4) working together with others as equals to make the world a better place.
I have coined this term to contrast my approach from both the Traditional (medical model) and the Diversity (unconditional acceptance) approaches. This is a third alternative that blends the key benefits of both approaches into a sustainable solution.
Applied to the autism community, it features the following:
- Forming a quadripartite alliance of caregivers, autistics, service providers* and the government who work together as equals to benefit the autism community
- Emphasising that all voices matter and must be respected, including that of the majority and the powerful
- Focuses on taking personal responsibility and pragmatic action towards win-win collaboration and unity
- Autism advocacy focuses on (empowering) autistics rather than (convincing) the general public
- Defeat discrimination by being good role models and making positive contributions to society
- Always acting respectfully and responsibly when handling disagreements and conflicts
[* Service providers also include those providing employment opportunities and conducting research on the disabled community.]
The medical (Traditional) model of disability says that disabled people are the problem and should be the one to change. The social (Diversity) model says that mainstream society is the problem and should the one to change. The sensible (Equality) model says that everyone is responsible and must change together as equal partners to create a better world.
Inclusive equality is an invitation to improve ourselves so that we may work as equals with everyone else to make the world a better place. It does not ask anyone to deny the challenges they face or give up on their enjoyable but useless hobbies. It simply asks us to make the effort to improve ourselves to the requirements needed to be included as equals for whatever cause or purpose we are pursuing.
For instance, if we want to compete as equals with chess masters, we must be able to play chess at the chess master level. If we want to be included as equals with policymakers, then we have to be knowledgeable about societal issues, devise solutions together with the key stakeholders and then be able to persuade the community to support our solutions.
Inclusive Equality advocates imperfect growth and not perfect idealism. Imperfect Growth means that we grow into becoming equals: we may not be able to do it at first, but we improve ourselves slowly over time so that we can do it eventually. Perfect Idealism means that we must achieve the desired outcome right away; there is no room for growth and compromise.
A way to understand Inclusive Equality is to consider Gender Equality. Both genders have a different consciousness (i.e. experience the world differently) which results in them having different cultures and behaviours. None of the genders and their characteristics are considered superior or inferior to the other under Gender Equality; they are instead considered complementary to each other.
Gender Equality is not about making everyone the same but giving everyone the same opportunities. For example, women were previously dismissed as unfit for studying without even getting a chance to try. Now they can go to university and compete as equals with men. Both genders still have to pass the same exams in order to get the same educational qualifications. Hence, while opportunities exist for women due to Gender Equality, it is up to each woman to choose to use the opportunities and work hard to make her life better.
Please refer to the examples below for more concrete explanations of Inclusive Equality.
Traditional: “I am intrinsically defective and can never be equal. I am ashamed to be a burden to others. Please help me to fix my defects. If my defects cannot be fixed, please be compassionate and support me to live with dignity.”
Diversity: “I am different from you and I am proud to be different in my special way. Please be patient with me because I have difficulty with some daily tasks that are easy for you. Please listen to my story to understand me better, and do your best to make me feel welcomed as part of your life.”
Inclusive Equality: “I wish to be treated the same as you by everyone else, but I need help to get there. Please support my efforts and guide me so that I can grow together with you. It is less important for me to share how I am different from you and more important to find out how I can work together with you to make both our lives better.”
Traditional: “Supporting disabled people is a waste of time and effort, it makes more sense to invest in supporting talented and capable people instead.”
Diversity: “Accommodate and support disabled people at all costs to give them the opportunities and dignity they deserve in life.”
Inclusive Equality: “The needs of the majority are also as important as that of the minority; support for disabled people should be provided in a pragmatic and economically sustainable manner.”
Traditional: “Disabled people should just shut up and listen to the professionals and caregivers who know better. All of their views are irrelevant.”
Diversity: “We must listen to disabled people, even if they are unable to contribute to the conversation meaningfully. All their views are important.”
Inclusive Equality: “For those who have the capacity to reflect, empower them to make meaningful contributions to the conversation. For those who lack the capacity to reflect, accept that they are unable to contribute in this manner and let them contribute meaningfully in other ways.”
Traditional: “Disabled people should see their disability as something that does not belong to them. It is shameful to be disabled.”
Diversity: “Disabled people should fully identify with their disability. We should be proud of who we are.”
Inclusive Equality: “Disability is neither intrinsically shameful nor wonderful. It simply is. Rather than pride or shame, we should be confident of ourselves, knowing that we can find ways to turn our disadvantages into advantages.”
Traditional: “Celebrate ability. Ability is what people truly value; people hire us based on what we can do, not what we cannot do.”
Diversity: “Celebrate diversity. We should not think of people as inferior to us because they are less able than us. Each of us is good at some things and poor at other things. Diversity makes the world interesting and we must treasure it.”
Inclusive Equality: “Celebrate leadership and personal growth. Regardless of our situation, we should do our best in whatever we were entrusted to do. Diversity should be pursued in a way that is sustainable rather than just for its own sake. We must accept that fact that society values ability, but we should strive towards improving our competitiveness in a way that meets our needs.”
Traditional: “Bowing to human rights is a waste of time and resources. Might is right. Wealth is right. Ability is right.”
Diversity: “We have inalienable human rights and we must fight for what we deserve from others. Without the protection of rights, the weakest among us will perish.”
Inclusive Equality: “If all of us fulfil our obligations towards each other, the issues meant to be protected by rights will take care of themselves. Fulfilling our obligations is something mostly within our control compared to demanding rights from powerful people.”
Traditional: “The minority disabled people must change to fit the needs of the majority. We advocate for training disabled people to adapt to mainstream society so that they can contribute meaningfully.”
Diversity: “The majority enjoys the privilege of defining how our society works, hence they must make the effort to change to accommodate the needs of the minority disabled people. We advocate for laws and regulations to protect the disabled people from having their needs ignored.”
Inclusive Equality: “Both the majority and minority must change equally to fit each other’s needs. We advocate for disabled people to strive to achieve equality while the rest of society supports their efforts.”
Traditional: “Disabled people should be paid based on the value of their work at market prices.”
Diversity: “Disabled people should be paid a fair living wage for their time and effort, even if they do not produce any useful work.”
Inclusive Equality: “Disabled people should be supported to strive to be as competitive as most people, but these ways can be different from those used by most people.”
Traditional: “A person fixed of their disability is a person saved.”
Diversity: “A person educated to accept diversity is a person saved.”
Inclusive Equality: “A previously unequal person who is empowered to stand as an equal is a person saved.”
Traditional: “So-called discrimination is logical. People need to protect themselves from harm, losses or damage. Anyone who is very different from others should be cautiously treated as problematic unless proven otherwise.”
Diversity: “Discrimination can be defeated if we educate everyone to accept diversity and understand the needs of disabled people. Until then, laws and regulations are necessary to force people to stop discriminating.”
Inclusive Equality: “Discrimination will naturally be defeated when disabled people show that they are useful and productive members of society, contributing as equals and working together with everyone to make the world a better place.”
A fundamental choice for each disabled person is to be treated either as special or as equals. Those who choose to be equals, must be treated as equal. Meaning, the laws and rules that apply to others will also apply to them. Those who choose to be treated as special abdicate their responsibilities. While they are exempted from following the laws and rules, but as a result, they cannot expect people to respect them and involve them meaningfully in determining their future. [Unfortunately, Inclusive Equality can only be employed by people who can exercise free will and know the consequences of their choices. It does not apply to the intellectually disabled who are unable to do so.]
One key area urgently needing the guidance of Inclusive Equality is the justice system. I advocate for a sensible justice system that does not allow people to hide behind disabilities to avoid the legal consequences of committing crimes and offenses. I advocate for policymakers not to use disability as an excuse to wash their hands off problematic people and dump them to a community ill-equipped to cope with them. Otherwise, disabled people will never achieve equality because they are seen as unable to control and improve themselves.
Our legal system was created to:
1) Prevent people from choosing to do bad or harmful things by making sure they pay a cost for doing so, with the cost proportionate to the amount of harm or damage incurred. This is punishment.
2) Stop people from doing such bad or harmful things, such as putting them in a safe place where they cannot do such things. This is prevention.
Let us not confuse punishment with prevention – those with the capacity to choose have to be punished, and those who lack the capacity to choose have to be prevented from re-offending. This is a pragmatic way to take care of the needs of all members of our society.