Vanguards of Afterthoughts

September 19, 2017 | Max Soh, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

As people with disabilities, we face barriers daily – a building that has only steps to its entrance, presenting barriers for people in wheelchairs, an event with information necessary for participation only in print materials, presenting barriers for the blind, videos and websites with audio but no captioning, presenting barriers for the deaf, teachers and professors arranging their curriculum where the sole means of excellence is measured through how long a student can sit through a three hour lecture or how much a student participates in class, presenting barriers for those with various forms of psychiatric disabilities – and the list goes on.

Yet, I would like to inform you that these examples, along with many others, are more than just barriers, these obstacles constantly send a message to us that says “people with disabilities most likely will not be in this space”.

When a company builds its entrances without the presence of ramps, when event planners disseminate information on the nights’ events solely through print pamphlets or brochures, when a web developer takes into consideration what may be rendered as effective design solely on the basis of what may be counted as aesthetically or audibly pleasing, when teachers only recognize the brilliance of a student through how much he or she participates in class, it is equivalent to me as a person of color being offered the phrase “we only serve white people” over and over again.

As a person of color, I do not and will not tolerate it if someone denies people of color rights and opportunities whether implicitly or explicitly, whether interpersonally or systemically, and as a person with a disability, it deeply troubles me that on a daily basis, people with disabilities (whether physical, psychiatric, mobile, developmental, or otherwise) are denied not just their rights, but their opportunities, and no, it makes no difference whether this denial is made through ableist rhetoric, through the absence of universal design, or through silence on the part of those in power.

Inclusion must be a priority of all who seek to better society for every single person. However, lest we fall into a notion that inclusion is merely a headcount of diverse individuals, I would like us to venture beyond diversity. Our very notion of how we orientate towards achievement and progress must be completely transformed to orientate around the marginalized. To simply endorse diversity without inclusion and to simply tout inclusion through measuring how many different individuals one has in a population is as some including myself have noted, to add color to a black and white film with a bad script – though the film might appear “enhanced”, it is the same film, it is still the same actors reading the same lines, following the same plot, and ultimately arriving at the same ending.

It is simply not enough to see how we may “accommodate” those with disabilities, we must reinvent our infrastructure and the very core functions of our institutions to include disabilities and minorities from the get go. In other words, instead of creating a new innovation around the majority, and then think (or in most cases scramble) to “accommodate” individuals with disabilities and other minorities, we must create our innovations around everyone (including the disabled and other minorities) so that every single person may have opportunity.

And lest one thinks such a model of inclusion is not feasible, we are not left without models to follow. The work of organizations such as AAPD, whom I have had the honor of meeting this summer, along with others provide us with tools and platforms to continually improve upon. I stress the word continually, for equity is never a state of completion but rather an on-going process of nurturing inclusion.

For those of us with privilege and power, we do ourselves a disservice when we ignore those in the minority in our innovations, planning, designs, and teaching because privilege is often invisible to those who have it, and in this lies the irony of privilege.

It is often said that progress can only be made when we find common ground; however, I would like to challenge us that progress can only begin when we embrace difference, more specifically, when we learn that our best innovations and measures of progress will only arrive when we learn to learn from afterthoughts, from those who have been told (whether implicitly or explicitly) time and time again that they do not fit in, and that they should not be in spaces where the majority reside not because of anything they have done or failed to do but because of what society thinks they cannot do before society has even met them.


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Max Soh is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern. This summer he interned with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD).

Striving for Inclusion Yet Unconsciously Veering Toward Integration

August 15, 2017 | Ann Wai-Yee Kwong, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

“Accommodations, what are you referring to?” Unsurprisingly, this was not the first time I attended a professional conference or briefing where diversity and inclusion is the central topic, however people with disabilities fail to be acknowledged and permitted to participate fully and in a meaningful fashion. Although I submitted my disability related accommodations on the registration application in the box labeled “List the accommodations you need to participate in the conference,” my query regarding the accommodations I previously requested were met with blank and confused reactions from the conference staff. I re-explained the accommodations I had submitted with a disappointed heart. Simultaneously, I questioned myself how a professional development conference, which promotes and strives for inclusion and meaningful participation as a best practice, fails to implement this. Are they in fact, touting inclusion while practicing a different model? Perhaps veering toward integration

Traditionally, individuals with disabilities have been marginalized and excluded from participation in the community such as subminimum wages and institutions. Passage of legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975) mandate people with disabilities must have equal opportunity and full participation within their communities; in other words, individuals with disabilities should be included and allowed to participate meaningfully in activities that people without disabilities have access to. Diversity is a contemporary trend society would “like” to value, believing that variation in backgrounds and experiences can contribute to innovative spaces. In many situations, I feel these amiable goals are reduced in terms of compliance and individuals with disabilities, such as myself, are often an afterthought rather than incorporated in the design and planning stages of opportunities and events. There appears to be a profound yet often overlooked difference between the desired outcome of inclusion versus the commonly practiced model of integration; unfortunately, I continue to encounter this as a doctoral student both in my personal life and research work in the field of education.

Although the words integration and inclusion are frequently used interchangeably as synonyms, I assert inclusion is the intentional and genuine involvement of individuals with disabilities to contribute and to participate in society where they partake in the design process of the structure and planning of such activities. Meanwhile, integration is the attempt to bring people with disabilities into an already existing opportunity or event WITHOUT their involvement in the design and planning process. Subsequently, inclusion is a proactive approach whereas integration is a reactive measure.

Returning to my recent experience at the professional development research conference where full participation was one of the focal topics, the conference organizers practiced integration rather than inclusion. If people with disabilities were on the planning committee or were consulted, then conference staff would have been aware of disability accommodations. The conference could have infused principles of universal design and the accommodations I submitted would be read and implemented. Although attending the conference in person was insightful, my experience would have been enhanced if I had access to the accommodations I requested. A clear example is to have electronic versions of the conference agenda and presentations on-line to provide access to people who have disabilities such as myself; this will also benefit those who tend to misplace hard copies of conference materials since they can refer to the schedule electronically. I hope, in the near future, society will be able to align our promotion for inclusive outcomes to our actions of full and meaningful participation while steering clear of mere integration.


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Ann Wai-Yee Kwong is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern. This summer she worked with the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL).

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