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Basic principals of inclusion

I liked how Get A Plan pointed out things I would have never even thought about. Things that we are doing already that we did not know we were doing. When they are pointed out they become visible to us and show that on some levels we are actually inclusive. Jan Ferrer, The Watermill

What are the basic principals of inclusion and how do they impact on arts organisations?

Legally, organisations have to work hard to ensure they do not discriminate against people just because of their race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age or religion/belief. Few people want to discriminate - sometimes it is hard to know quite what to do, to consider everything from every perspective and to be fully confident that you can get it all right. The following hopes to help you make sure you are genuinely welcoming everyone.

Sometimes you have to treat people differently to treat them equally.

Giving someone a seat at the front, reserving someone a parking space, going and getting someone a drink from the bar – these might all be examples of treating someone differently from others attending an event. However, these might all be needed to make sure someone has an equal chance of enjoying all aspects of the event.

Some people might need to be first in, or last in; might need information read to them or explained; might need a bit of reassurance and a friendly smile; might just need to be left alone…

Never assume anything about anyone, people can always surprise you!

You won’t know what everyone needs and you can’t just guess from looking at them. For example, not everyone who uses a disability parking permit uses a wheelchair.

It can be hard not to jump to conclusions, but beware of stereotypes as they can offend people.

Also, you don’t have to know everything about everyone - what someone’s first language is, what their disability might be, how old someone is, what faith they hold, if they are married and so on. You only need to know what is relevant. It is relevant if someone is over a particular age only if you offer a discount to older people; it is relevant if someone has a hearing impairment only because they may need to sit near the front to see an interpreter or lip-read speakers. If there is no relevance – then don’t be nosey!!

Find the barriers you’ve created that stop people joining in, and remove them.

There are often two ways of looking at a situation – you can just look at what makes someone different and focus on that, or you can look at what it is that you offer and see if there are any barriers that you can remove.

Someone might need a drink fetching during the interval. You can look at this and say it’s because they are a wheelchair user, or you can look at it and say it’s because the bar is up two flights of steps. Take responsibility for the barriers you can remove.

If you can’t remove a barrier, apologise and try and find a way around it – how can that person get the information or service that everyone else gets automatically? Be creative!

Talk about what you could offer, not about what someone can’t do

Some people find talking about difference difficult. If you talk about what you can offer, rather than what makes someone different, it can help.

So rather than just handing a visually impaired person a programme and asking them, ‘can you read that?’ (this might offend some people), you could say ‘we have a written programme, would you like that or would you like me to read it to you?’

Some people might be able to read it with assistance (for example, by using a magnifying glass), some might ask their friends for support, some might prefer that latter option.

And remember, everyone is different. If someone is struggling to get through a door, and you offer to help them with it – some people would say ‘thanks’ and welcome your help, some people would say ‘I can manage’ and prefer to manage independently, even if it takes them longer.

If in doubt – smile, look them in the eye, and ask ‘how can I help?’

You might not know how best to support someone – but they might! If in doubt, ask them.

And if you need to find out more about what you could provide – ask others involved in your organisation.

And remember…

Diversity is about difference. To work successfully with diversity, we all need to be able to think about things a different way, to see different perspectives, to imagine things outside of our own narrow experiences.

A quick story of the world turned upside down…

'Imagine a community where everyone used a wheelchair and no one walked on two legs. Everyone they see on TV uses a wheelchair; everyone in all the shops uses a wheelchair; all the teachers, bankers, performers, hairdressers – everyone uses a wheelchair. So they build the environment to suit themselves. Doors are all 4 foot tall; rooms are 6 foot high; there are no seats or tables anywhere as people just use their own chairs and shelves.'

One day, a non-disabled person arrives to live there. They bang their head on all the door lintels – so are given a special helmet to stop it hurting; they have to stoop when in the buildings – so are given a special back brace to keep them stooped at a low level; they need special equipment like chairs and tables, made just for them, so they can join in with everyone else at meals...

What would it take to make that person feel genuinely included?

Adapted from ‘To Deny or Not to Deny Disability’, by Vic Finkelstein 1975

You can download the above information as a handout here: