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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