Let me venture out of our norm and start by sharing a bit of news in the fashion apparel world. This week, two major clothing retailers – Target and Tommy Hilfiger, released a new line dubbed “adaptive clothing”. They include tagless shirts with flat seams, hoodies with discreet openings for g-tubes, dress shirts with regular buttons sewn over magnetic dots, and etc. Although families have gotten by in the past with improvising on regular clothing, it is exciting to imagine that there are now comfortable and stylish options for people with needs that are out of the ordinary.
A disclaimer is due at this point, as I am not specifically driving business for the aforementioned retailers nor will I receive any reimbursement from them. I raise the subject because apparel is a way to visualize diversity and inclusion that all of us can easily relate to. First of all, no two human bodies are identical. That’s why we have sizing charts and different measurement points to enable the best fit for each wearer. Additionally, there are clothing for diverse purposes. For recreational use, there are clothing made from quick-drying materials for those who are involved in water activities; there are clothing that are waterproof and breathable for those who participate in alpine activities. For lifestyle choices, there are clothing with dedicated pockets and openings for headphones for music lovers; there are gloves with conducive pads on the fingertips to allow for touchscreen use in the cold. For safety purposes, there are clothing with reflective strips that make wearers more visible in the dark; there are steel-toed boots that protect against mishaps. As a society, we include clothing options to meet the diverse needs of the population across a variety of contexts. Medical and/or physical needs should be no different. If there is a physical need for simple-to-manage closure, then there is no reason not to design clothing that satisfy that demand. It is only a logical extension of what already exists.
Now take a wider perspective and consider inclusion in other contexts. To include a young child during family reading time at home, a parent might put clothes pins on the edges of pages so she can turn them more easily. To include a child who does not speak, a parent might implement an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system with the support of a professional. To include a student whose learning may be hampered by hunger, a school may provide access to nutritional breakfasts. To include a student whose learning may be impacted by his ability to process verbal instruction, a school may provide a visual display of the same information. To include a worker who is suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, an employer may install speech-to-text software to reduce the amount of typing on the job. To include a worker who finds it challenging to navigate around the office to complete various tasks, an employer may streamline the physical layout and develop a step-by-step recipe to clarify the process and increase efficiency and productivity for all employees!
All we’ve discussed so far converge on one central idea – we as a society already put in place much adaptation in all realms of life to include and enable participation. They are such common facts of life that we do not usually consider them as “special accommodations” or “measures for inclusion”. They are simply “what is necessary to enable a person to attain their desired outcome”. This same kind of thinking can and should be extended to needs with mental and developmental origins. I hope I have given you compelling examples to suggest that inclusion for persons with “special needs” is not categorically different from, but merely an extension of, what we already do as a society. This is not to say that we, as clinicians and educators, no longer need to teach to expand skills – teaching will always go on so people can access evermore settings and activities, and lead happier and healthier lives as desired.
So this February, show your love by looking out for opportunities to do something differently to push inclusion just a little bit further in your home, your school, your work, and your community. It may not touch everyone in that environment but for the one person you will have helped include, they will feel valued – they will feel your love.