January 13, 2021
Amplify Inclusion Podcast
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.
Katy & Kerry join the host for a group chat focused on the benefits and challenges of using dialogue as a means for making positive change. Listen now or view the full transcript below.
This episode was produced by Aspire Inclusive Solutions and engineered, edited and mixed by Subframe Sound with music courtesy of Nealle DiPaolo.
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare from Aspire. Thanks for joining us we share real stories and conversations about the power and importance of disability inclusion. Last time, we heard from Katy & Kerry, two educational professionals committed to inclusion, who shared their personal stories with us. In this episode, they join me again for a group discussion about the importance of using dialogue to advance inclusion, the challenges we may face in the process, and why it’s worth it. Here’s our conversation…
So they’re three main things that have come up when we’ve talked about mindset, and one is like that idea of active questioning- of yourself and what you’re doing and questioning others to kind of guide that process. The second piece is stories – taking the time to ask, listen, hear the experiences of others and then the third piece was engaging in productive conversation. So that’s what we want to talk about today is really, what does that process look like cause it’s not always easy and historically before this period in time a lot of us have actively avoided it because it’s uncomfortable. So we want to be honest about that aspect and give others insights into not only why it’s important to move through the conversation and why it’s worth it, but what that can look like. So the first idea that we want to talk about is just revisiting the why- so when we are talking about conversation and dialogue, why is that process so critical to mindset development?
I think conversation is essential to mindset shift particularly when we’re talking about disability because so often people have never had a conversation about disability before. So you can’t necessarily shift a mindset if you’ve never been exposed to the topic or the content. In our case, we are often bringing information to the table both for students and for teachers in a lot of cases that is brand new and it shouldn’t be but it is. And when we introduce disability as a topic of conversation that is a neutral topic, we give people an opportunity to start to think about it- not to think differently about it, necessarily, but to start to think about it at all and then that gives people an opportunity to think about what they might have understood or inferred from their life experience, but to move people to an ability inclusive mindset we have to make sure disability is a part of their thinking at all and so the conversations help them to form a perspective around it.
I actually just taught the ability inclusive mindset lesson last week and I echo that- that giving the students the space to discuss and ask questions. I think sometimes it’s something that perhaps they don’t feel they have a safe space to discuss and so giving them that space to ask questions about other students that might look different than them or act different than them and knowing that they can ask those questions and be given answers and have a discussion about it has been really valuable.
Yeah, that’s a great example. It’s almost like- we haven’t typically considered it an element of diversity. So how do you personally gauge when it’s the right time? And what is your approach when you make that determination- I need to utilize this this engagement as an opportunity to raise awareness?
Okay, so knowing when it’s the right time to address maybe inaccuracies or, you know, inappropriate language or insensitive language is- it’s tricky. It’s tricky to know when it’s the right time. But I come at it from a place knowing that most people have not been trained in disability awareness, do not have a solid foundation of what to say or how to say something so I try to layer that in. I also try to model as best I can and I’m really intentional, especially when I’m with friends and family, about the things that I say and how I phrase things- it matters. I think modeling is our best teacher especially when we’re amongst our peers. But it is hard, I mean with any addressing any aspect of diversity and ensuring that we are speaking respectfully and being appropriate. The timing is challenging but language is usually a pretty good bet for me as an entry point.
And for me, I think you know I’m with kids all day. And so I take any moment that I can and there’s always teachable moments throughout the day. Whether I’m doing a read aloud or it comes up in some other aspects of our curriculum. And then, of course, our Nora Project lessons once a week gives that platform for me to really discuss and talk about what- what language is appropriate what isn’t appropriate and also looking at making our space more accessible for our friends whether it’s online or in the classroom.
I think that’s a way to really empower people that are listening to think about tangible ways that it doesn’t have to be about you know, you know, speaking up in a board meeting. It can be about using a teachable moment at your family dinner table or whatever it may be to really model what that can look like.
I think that there are simple shifts that can be made. I mean when we’re thinking about mindset – the way that we talk about something informs the way that we think about something. So if- if we can give people little nudges towards a more progressive understanding of disability as a whole it goes a long way. You don’t necessarily have to do a dissertation on the disability rights movement to understand disability as a natural and expected part of human diversity. And so little things like shifting away from euphemisms, I think, can make a big difference in the way that people think about disability in general. Like if we stop thinking about it as something ‘special’ we have a much better likelihood of approaching it from more of the social model perspective, you know, that that it’s society that needs to make adjustments.
Yeah, definitely and I think that’s a great example of generations that have come before us that those perspectives have been so shaped by a backwards framing, right? So I wanted to talk a little bit more about some barriers either of you have noticed maybe with kids, maybe with colleagues or just other people you’ve engaged with where conversations shut down or where you know, there’s some sort of breakdown?
The couple of adults that I’ve actually experienced issues with language with are- are parents of kids with disabilities because there is a lot of differing opinions on what language is appropriate. So I’ve had some pretty good discussions with parents of kids with disabilities that do prefer the term “special needs.” So it’s almost like you have to ask people.
I do think what I’ve noticed is that people sometimes come to this very sure of themselves, particularly non disabled people. Or like Kerry was saying people who are parents of a child with a disability or a family member of a person with a disability who have a really clear idea of what they believe to be true about disability, and sometimes that sort of sways into the area that when we listen to the disability community, they are saying something very different. And so what I’ve learned, myself, and this has taken time in my journey of understanding this work better is you should center disabled voices and honor them, because the people that live the experience are the ones who should be able to dictate the language and I do think, it is often, language is often the sticking point it. I have done a number of presentations where afterwards someone will confront us and say, you know, you really shouldn’t use that word “disability.” And we have to come at that with as much information as we can about why we do use the term and why it’s a term associated with rights and protections under the law and why it is preferred over euphemisms. So what’s interesting to me is that I haven’t experienced people shutting down in this work so much as I have seen people sort of rise up in their convictions, maybe opposite to what I have come to understand to be true.
That’s really interesting. And yeah, I mean it really just speaks to kind of how fixated I think we are on labels as you know a society and that’s kind of our first entry point for gaining understanding about something is knowing what to call it. Were you going to add something, Katy?
You know another challenge that we’ve encountered -when it comes to kids with disabilities, the school system has historically been set up to shield, to protect, to sort of separate- that’s how the system has been designed. And of course we see lots of school districts moving in a more progressive direction, pushing for inclusion that you know is appropriate to the child, that isn’t about location. It’s about services and access. But I do think that there exists in a lot of schools a culture of sort of “saviorism” for kids with disabilities, lower expectations. And those are unconscious biases and they’re perpetuated by the way the systems are set up, and I think there’s generally a lack of progressive education in special education programs for teachers, but I do think that that’s another roadblock that we run into- because teachers have to unlearn that it’s their job to save or protect, you know kids with disabilities who might they might perceive as needing their help on a different level than a student who’s typically developing.
I think that’s what we talked about in our last meeting was just that accessibility piece. That’s something that I really learned through Nora Project training to look at any time. And we’re not in person now, but when we are in person, I talk to those teachers ahead of time about making things accessible so that those students can be independent, and that is so important and it was something that I was definitely missing.
That also makes me think of this idea that that we talk about a lot which is inclusion should be more proactive than reactive. And I think that the way that we don’t talk about it in most settings doesn’t allow us to be proactive. You know, we’re kind of setting ourselves up for failure when we’re just putting Band-Aids on things and not getting ahead of it with these conversations. So what strategies have you either of you found to be really effective in conversations and are there ways that you might set up or frame a conversation before it occurs to really help it be productive and safe and open?
Sometimes my loved ones will say something and I can simply respond like ‘we don’t say that anymore’. It is an easy way of just the sort of catching people’s attention and they’re like, wait what? And then you can explain what you mean. But that is an easy entry point for me like when people say like “the handicapped space” I say “oh we don’t say that anymore. We say accessible space.” And it’s like a quick little lesson. And then maybe the next time they’ll stop before they say handicapped.
What I love about that is that you use “we” instead of placing blame or like shaming it. It’s like “we” it’s inviting them in, like “here’s what we do, you’re a part of that too,” you know? Which may or may not be perceived that way in the moment by some, but you know, that’s a very small thing that can make a big difference in terms of inviting them into that process. So I wonder what that looks like with kids. Something that might help us think about this is that idea of questioning because that’s come up a lot of being a really effective means to prompt reflection by posing further questions. Kerry, have you noticed anything that’s really helped with kids or do you find that they respond well when you probe with higher level questions?
It’s so embedded in the curriculum that we’re using that reflection piece after every lesson that it it gives kids the opportunity to reflect. One of the questions is ‘how are you feeling about meeting some friends that might be different than you?’ And you know, some of the kids do say I’m a little nervous or I’m a little scared, but I think as Katy said that modeling piece is huge. And as a teacher, that is something that I do and the other teachers in the building are doing and I think kids see that and it’s reflected in the way that they treat students with disabilities and just all students who are different than them.
Another tool that we use at the Nora Project in our different programs is read-alouds to prompt different ways of thinking. We want students to develop their own conclusions and we try to provide provocations in the materials that will give them the opportunity to either ask questions or generate ideas and then have the opportunity to question those ideas and revise their thinking so, we do make a really concerted effort, when we’re writing the curriculum to make sure that kids have the opportunity to do synthesis. So it’s not even just reflection. It’s- this is how I thought before, and here’s how I’m thinking now and what was the change?
What was the catalyst for that change?
Yeah, those are all great examples and I mean picture books are always such a great tool, right? Just for starting- prompting the conversation. And I think what both of you said makes me think of parents, as well, because we know that, you know, a lot of these conversations are, or aren’t maybe, happening at home and what kinds of things could we encourage parents to do to provoke that same sort of inquiry without just dumping information but making it a collaborative reflection process?
There’s a couple of really key elements to think about as a parent. One is- as a member of the non-disabled community, it is your job to educate yourself about the disability Community. It is not the job of disabled people to educate you. So step one is educate yourself so that when your kids do ask questions, you have a basis to begin to answer them, right? Just a simple foundation in disability awareness is a great start whether that’s reading a book yourself, whether it’s following people on Twitter or Instagram to better understand the disabled perspective. That is a great starting point. And then I think a simple next step is to increase the amount of representation of disability in your kids’ toys and books as much as you can. So it’s important that we expose kids so that they do have opportunities to ask questions. And then, if you’re not sure of the answers, this is what we as teachers do all the time we say, “you know what? I’m not sure how to answer that question, but I’m going to find out and I’m going to get back to you.” There’s no shame in telling a child that you don’t know the answer.
I was hoping we could talk a little bit about observations of positive outcomes, specifically through conversation. So those little aha moments whether it’s with kids, whether it’s with adults. What are some examples of things that you’ve seen that would reflect how mindsets can shift through dialogue and conversation?
So even the last question made me think of this when Katy was speaking- I’ve had several parents contact me this year to say that after lessons their kids are talking at the dinner table. And so I think it’s opening parents eyes to disability awareness and the importance of that. So I’ve had several parents contact me that kids are coming to the dinner table and starting conversations with them about the importance of an ability inclusive mindset just from the lessons that we’re providing.
A lot of the aha moments that I see for people are in the context of trainings. As much as we can in our trainings we do try to give people an opportunity to sit with the information. Whether it’s through a reflection afterward or through table conversations. But you have to have the opportunity to process that new information, I think, before you can really move to it being something that you can carry forward in your life. I mean I will say there is not enough education about disability, hardstop. What little we can offer to people, I think, is often transformative and it’s the conversation that makes it stick. And so that’s our vehicle to really shift people’s mindsets long-term. Not just in that moment, but something that they carry with them beyond that training session.
And I think, Katy, that they may be little shifts. But I think about even my own experience over the last three years with the Nora Project and I would say that this last summer I- my mindset shifted hugely. And so even after providing Nora Project curriculum to my students for two years, I’m still shifting. So it’s baby steps right, it’s not this big “Oh! Okay, I’m completely changed!” It’s little by little you learn more and when you learn more you do better, you know better you do better.
It’s definitely a journey. And I think that’s true of any diversity education. It is a journey and it should be a lifelong journey. Because the second that you stop listening is the second that you get stuck. And society is the way it is because we’ve got these concrete ideas and we can’t shift away from them. And so, if we are committed to open-mindedness and a continuous learning journey, then we’re going to be way more likely to be able to live out an inclusive mindset.
That was all so well said. It perfectly frames this idea around mindset that everyone has talked about which is that it isn’t one thing. It’s an it’s active, ongoing, flexibility and the willingness to be accountable for what we don’t know, or what we’ve understood incorrectly, or the responsibility to share what we’ve learned. There’s
so many elements to it really is that that active frame of mind. So, how could things be different if these types of conversations with kids were happening everywhere all the time, in an intentional way? What could the outcomes be?
So let’s take the pandemic for example- in the midst of the beginning of the pandemic when workplaces shut down, we had this instant switch to everybody working virtually. And all of a the sudden, everyone’s needs were accommodated. It was not a question. And what I noticed was disabled folks talking about how they had been asking for those same accommodations for years, and they had been told that it was absolutely impossible for those desires to be accommodated- to work from home, to contribute virtually. And I think, if we’re training kids in an ability inclusive mindset and then sending them off into the world looking at the world as a place where we should accommodate and make everything accessible for everyone, regardless of what that need is, that maybe we wouldn’t have had that moment of tension where the disabled Community was crying out and saying, “How dare you make this okay, all of a sudden, when what we’ve been asking you for is so simple?” I just think when we train kids in inclusion, we put them out into the world ready to be the people that hire folks, the people that manage people, the people that make laws, that uphold the laws – there’s no way that this is going to be a bad thing in the long run, right? There’s only potential for this to improve the world and improve the way that society functions. So as far as I’m concerned, it should be top of every teacher’s priority list, every person’s priority list- who cares about the state of society to be training kids in inclusive mindset. It is so critical to everyone’s success.
So what are some ways to start getting engaged in the mindset movement, you know, around disability and finding your place in that?
I would just encourage any teacher that’s listening- look into using some of the curriculum that the Nora project provides. They’re providing curriculum at all levels so it doesn’t have to be a huge year-long commitment. It could be using the Kindness Library or using some of the lessons that stand-alone just to get your feet wet. But I truly believe that the curriculum is transformative and so any teacher that’s listening should look into starting that movement at their building.
I of course, will echo what Kerry said. I agree. I think the Nora project should be in every classroom everywhere. Beyond that I think if people want to take some first steps, if they want to become more engaged in the disability community and the disability conversation. For my personal learning and growth, my best starting point has been social media. And what I love about it is I feel like when you follow people, you get more of an intimate view into their life. It’s pictures it’s videos. It’s seeing and learning about the disabled perspective in a more intimate way. That has been really in transformative for me to follow the journeys of disabled people on social media. So I think that is a great place to start learning.
So to close us out I want to just thank you both. Obviously you committed a lot of time to multiple conversations, but beyond that, both of your levels of commitment is very obvious and I think you know this is the heart of this whole series because we’ve established that mindset matters, not only that it matters, but that it really is everything not only for disability inclusion and advancement around that but diversity and inclusion in general. And we’ve established that there’s a lot of work that goes into the unlearnings and shifting mindsets and that we have the power to prepare future generations that are going to create truly inclusive spaces for all people and you both are a part of that. So thank you both for just being a part of this.
I’d like to thank Katy & Kerry for sharing their time and insights with us. As we conclude this season, we hope our focus on mindset has helped you to understand the role that you can play in advancing inclusion. You have the power to take active steps to participate in this movement – and we hope you’ll continue to do so by seeking out the stories of others and engaging in constructive conversations.
We’re so grateful to each of our guests throughout this series, who generously shared their personal perspectives. Their insights reinforced the fact that creating inclusive communities is both an individual and collective responsibility – and that together, we’re better.
Thanks for joining us for our second season and stay tuned for more episodes coming later this year. Until then, stay connected with us at aspirechicago.com – and be a part of the inclusive movement by rating and subscribing to Amplify Inclusion. This episode was produced by the Inclusive Solutions team and co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound.
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