I believe that true inclusion is to provide people with options where their needs can be met and choices can be respected, not by forcing people to interact in the same space and same manner with each other. It can be counterproductive, for instance, to require an autistic child to manage the social demands of studying in a mainstream school or participating in a party in the name of inclusion.
True acceptance requires finding a way to live in harmony with everyone else, not to keep telling each other that we should not be angry or frustrated by those who behave differently. It will only subtlety breed resentment if we must have our patience tested constantly and our needs as the majority ignored.
I believe that true awareness happens naturally when people with different needs can befriend and work together with each other towards a common goal rather than artificial attempts to put a positive spin on disabilities and “celebrate diversity”. It is only when we get to know each other closely that mutual misconceptions can be dispelled and support needs are understood. We can modify the approaches that have curbed racism in Singapore to curb ableism too.
I do not agree with how things are done (in 2020) about disability and inclusion. The paradigms of charitable dependency, unconditional acceptance at all costs, compulsory inclusion, privileges (as compensation) for disability, tokenistic support/advocacy, and low expectations/investment in developing competency are perpetuating the existing problems.
For example, people are confusing discrimination with disability and see having separate spaces for people with diverse needs as segregation. They push to integrate schools and public places so that all people are in the same place interacting with each other regardless of their support needs, and then complain that not enough is done to support disabled people.
While it is true that people use segregation to impose discrimination – royalty vs commoners, whites vs coloured, intelligent vs dull – it is necessary to distinguish between discrimination and pragmatism. Anyone who lives in a big family will know that whenever many people with different agendas and needs interact closely with each other, nasty conflicts occur. Living separately as different families is a pragmatic way to reduce conflicts rather than a statement of discrimination; it does not mean that joint outings and visits cannot occur.
Another example is the belief that everything should be made accessible to everyone. It is often unnecessary or even counterproductive to change the entire environment for the sake of a small minority. Rather, we might change a part of the environment to cater specifically to certain minorities. For instance, we can build padded soundproof individual reading rooms where autistic kids can be free to do what they like in the library. The family can relax in the room knowing that they will not be interfering with other library patrons.
Finally, there is almost no interest in supporting disabled people to become service providers to support the disabled community and mainstream society. The assumption is that since they are unable to take care of themselves, how could they take care of others. Such a mentality of creating dependent relationships prevents true inclusion from occurring since disabled people will never be able to take leadership of their lives.
My proposal of providing scholarships to support promising autistics to get professional training in exchange for a bond to serve the autism community fell flat on supposedly inclusive people. One parent even taunted me by saying that I should learn from the autistics working in McDonald’s who at least earn money for themselves. Apparently, disabled people are both unworthy of being taken seriously and incapable of providing good returns on investments that develop their potential.
There is a need to rethink what we as advocates want to achieve – to impose our ideology on everyone, or to support the lifestyle choices and needs of everyone including those without disabilities?
Rather than survey everyone’s needs and then pouring massive amounts of money to build a perfect system or facility to support all of them, let us support different people with specific solutions. Rather than having ambitious initiatives run by an army of civil servants, academics, or charity workers, facilitate the community to build their solutions through their efforts.
Rather than make people feel guilty about having thoughts that are not open-minded and inclusive, ask them to find a way that can meet their needs without taking away from the needs of others. Rather than persuade people to accept all types of differences without question, ask them to first accept their differences which they are ashamed of or unhappy with. Rather than tell people to always include everyone else, ask them to find ways to live in harmony with those who are different.
Let us not judge only the surface appearances and words. Let us not be limited by only what the eye sees. Let us go beyond the mind’s logic. Only when we break the chain of logic to ideologies and end our slavery to them, can we touch the true hearts of the people. Only then can we serve their needs according to human nature rather than against human nature.