A Narrative of Value: Committing to Authentic Disability Inclusion in Society
In crafting the good society, we seek to leave no one behind. The phrase “to leave no one behind” is a popular slogan, one often used to characterize the mission of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At its core, the phrase evokes a shared commitment by all members of society to ensure each and every individual feels valued and is able to live to their full potential. In practice, what would a society that leaves no one behind actually look like?
On December 2, 2020, the Good Society Forum hosted a webinar on disability inclusion to hone in on one aspect of this question. According to the World Bank, over one billion people, that’s fifteen percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Due to population ageing and the global increase in chronic health conditions, this number is unambiguously growing.
Held in observance of the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, the webinar featured Sara Minkara, Founder and President of Sara Minkara, LLC; Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority; and Dr. Heidi Alaudeen Alaskary, CEO of Special Olympics Saudi Arabia. The panelists shone a spotlight on the stories of people with disabilities and discussed ways to work towards authentic disability inclusion in our own communities.
Sara Minkara began by introducing herself, “I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a colleague. I’m a troublemaker. I’m an introvert. I love nature. I love math. I love to eat chicken…I am a woman. I am Muslim. I am blind. I am a person with a disability, and I’m very proud of it.” When Minkara was seven years old, she went from a world where she could see to a world where she could no longer see. Her mother has always encouraged her to see her disability as a strength. She noted, however, that this was a privilege she experienced. People with disabilities are often not recognized or acknowledged as humans with value who deserve to live a well-rounded life with purpose. It is thus crucial to create a narrative of value, to remind everyone that the discourse around disability should be one geared towards potential to society. Instead of resorting to a narrative of pity and charity, one focused on difference and disempowerment, it is extraordinarily important to recognize that disability inclusion is a value for all. When we do not fight for the full social and economic participation of people with disabilities in our communities, we lose out as a society. Authentic disability inclusion begins with this shift in mindset — society as a whole is bettered when people with disabilities can be their best selves and take a seat at every table.
The work to be done should not just fall on the shoulders of people with disabilities and their families. Starting with educators and employers, everyone should embrace the need to create spaces where people with disabilities are given the opportunity to feel empowered. Manal Ataya reminded the audience to examine our own positionality in life. In order to be an active ally for people with disabilities, we need to understand where we are positioned in society and the privileges we are afforded as a result. By reflecting on the ways in which we benefit from the status quo due to certain markers of our identity, we are able to better empathize with and advocate for those who are excluded from participating in our day-to-day reality. In the absence of this necessary self-examination, we will be perpetuating the inflexible societal structures in place that prop up barriers for and deny access to people with disabilities. In the museum world, for example, Ataya highlights the importance of championing accessibility services and normalizing programming that puts inclusion at the forefront of every discussion.
Disability inclusion is an ever-evolving topic, and Dr. Heidi Alaudeen Alaskary identified that the crux of the issue is about human nature. Too often people ask why one may be invested in disability inclusion — if it is perhaps because there are people in their lives who experience disability. She pointed out that one does not need to know anyone with a disability to be an advocate for disability inclusion. At the end of the day, any good society must operate on the assumption that we all want to be accepted, to feel a sense of value, and we all feel the need to be part of a collective. By valuing, leveraging, and learning from what makes other people unique, we become a voice for someone who does not feel included. In her experience, sport has been a magical tool to promote disability inclusion, where people celebrate a commitment to building a space where everyone feels seen. The next steps in this work are to make disability inclusion a part of our conscious DNA. Although diversity and inclusion sometimes become more of an afterthought, Alaskary pushed for the incorporation of disability discussions into the mainstream.
It is fundamentally about a change in perspective — instead of viewing disability as something we “have to” address due to external pressures, society needs to move towards a mindset where we want to have conversations on disability inclusion in every setting because it makes our society stronger. We are called to examine the ways in which each and every one of us interacts with disability and people with disabilities in our daily lives, and to proactively commit to creating the opportunity for people with disabilities to thrive.
The full webinar is available on Youtube.
By Muriel Wang