Whilst in years gone by, disabled people have been specifically excluded, this is not the case anymore as many organisations communicate - sometimes boast - inclusive values. Organisational leaders, however, seemingly assume that when ‘protective’ mechanisms against exclusiveness are put in place, inclusive outcomes naturally follow.
Inclusion does not just happen: “Last year I organised more than 25 community events attended by over 50,000 people. We don’t have any policy to specifically include marginalised people and our reporting does not include such categories either. We do have a Disability Strategy, but I have no idea what it means on the ground” [community event organiser]. Community building workers are so busy with logistics and organisation that inclusiveness becomes another task on otherwise crammed days. Even when frontline employees are passionate about participation, they need to invest extra energy towards inclusive outcomes – which may then go un-noticed and un-reported.
Most organisations I have worked with do not offer any mechanisms to specifically include marginalised people: This leaves inclusion to the personal interpretation, or lack thereof, of individual frontline staff and often results in latent exclusion. Hence statements that are not backed up with specific systems or protocols to implement inclusiveness are ineffective.
Recently I have been thinking about a more creative way to engage and been experimenting with Intentional Invitations as a facilitative mechanism: we approach a disabled person and explain that we are organising encounters where everybody is welcomed and diversity is valued. Though at first glance this may seem simplistic, our experience is that for a disabled person to receive such an explicit invitation is an unusual occurrence. The rare invites they rather receive are impersonal, invitations to exclusive events – i.e. for a disabled audience. We have found that participants - disabled and non-disabled - report new experiences of togetherness as a result of this new engagement.