Thursday, May 1, 2014

Inclusion II

Back when I was a social worker, I was the program coordinator for an anger management program for teens.  Both the teens and their parents participated in psychoeducational group sessions where they learned things like communication skills, assertiveness, stress management, problem solving skills, and other practical things they could do to manage their anger and to cope with anger in others.

One of my jobs as program coordinator was interviewing and assessing all new clients to determine if the program was an appropriate placement for them and to make sure program staff was aware of any special needs or challenges they brought with them.  One young man was referred to the program by his probation officer and when his mom called to schedule an appointment for an intake, she told me she would be coming to the appointment with him but that she didn't know if she could participate in the program herself because she was visually impaired.  I told her not to worry, we would make whatever accommodations were necessary so that she could participate and that we wanted her to participate because that was how she could best help her son.

It never occurred to me to exclude her due to her visual impairment.  I figured I would do whatever I could to help her participate and succeed, just like I did with all my other clients.

The mom and her son came in for their intake appointment and the first thing I always had new clients do was fill out a bunch of paperwork.  I asked her if she would like me to assist her with the paperwork or if she would like her son to do that.  She wanted her son to do it, so he did.

We went through all the standard intake stuff.  Then I explained that we often give out handouts to clients in the program and asked if she would prefer to receive that information in a large print format, in Braille, recorded on a cassette tape or in some other format.  She asked to have it on a cassette tape. 

If she'd wanted it in large print, I would have looked online to find out how large that should be and then scanned the handouts and enlarged them on my computer.  If she'd wanted it in Braille, I wasn't sure how I would do that.  There was an Associate for the Blind in the city in which I worked and I thought I would call them and ask how I might get handouts typed up in Braille.  I wasn't sure how I would do it but I was certain it could be done and that I would do whatever it took to manage it.

Since she wanted the information on cassette tape, I bought some blank tapes (this was many years ago, mind you) and read all of our standard handouts and recorded them.  I gave the facilitator of the group she was going to be in some other blank tapes and told him to make sure, if he planned to give out any other handouts, that he recorded them ahead of time for her.

I also gave him a little speech about treating her like all the other clients in the program and being receptive to any special needs or accommodations she might ask for.  I made sure he knew it was OK to use words like "see" or "watch" when talking to her, stuff like that.

I asked her, during the intake, if there were any other things she could think of that we could do to help her participate fully in the program and encouraged to her to speak to the facilitator of her group or to call me directly if she had any questions or concerns at any time.  I also checked in with her a few weeks later to make sure everything was going OK.  She said it was.

It wasn't hard to include her.  It took a little bit of extra work, recording the written information on cassette tape, but that didn't take very long.  It took a little bit of extra money, buying some blank tapes, but they were cheap.  The effort involved on my part, and on the part of the facilitator of her group, was minimal.  But I believe the benefit to her and to her son was much greater.

And that's often the case.  A minimal amount of effort, or money, can make a huge difference in the life of someone with a disability.  For instance, it would take my landlord a few second and a few pennies to tape a notice to my door instead of wedging it into the door where it will fall to the floor when I open the door.  But because he wants to save a few second and a few pennies, he continues to wedge papers into the door, even though it takes more a lot more effort to pick them up than it would take him to tape them to the door.  Inclusion, or accessibility, is often like that.

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